"Carol of the Bells" is a popular Christmas carol, composed by Mykola Leontovych with lyrics created Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on a folk chant known in Ukrainian as "Shchedryk". Wilhousky's lyrics and the English name are copyrighted, although the original musical composition is not.
The song is recognized by a four-note ostinato motif. It has been arranged many times for different genres, styles of singing and settings and has been covered by artists and groups of many genres: classical, metal, jazz, rock, and pop. The piece has also been featured in films, television shows, and parodies.
The song is based on a traditional folk chant. It was associated with the coming New Year which, in pre-Christian Ukraine, was originally celebrated with the coming of Spring in April. (This explains the reason why the original Ukrainian text speaks about a swallow returning and lambs being born.)
With the introduction of Christianity to Ukraine, and the adoption of the Julian calendar, the celebration of the New Year was moved from April to January, and the holiday with which the chant was originally associated became the Feast of Epiphany (also known in Ukrainian as Shchedry vechir). The songs sung for this celebration are known as Schedrivky.
The original Ukrainian text tells the tale of a swallow flying into a household to proclaim the plentiful and bountiful year that the family will have. The title is derived from the Ukrainian word for "bountiful". The period for the birth of animals and the return of swallows to Ukraine however does not correspond to the current calendar season of winter.
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