There are plenty of playful and wistful and joyous songs you’ll probably hear this Christmas season. Soaring lyrics about the birth of Jesus. Sentimental melodies about longing for home. Lists of reindeer names and games all set to a familiar tune.

But there’s one song that gets me every time. From the first note, I recognize it. 

Carol of the Bells.

It’s performed in full electric guitar glory by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In the amazing a cappella version by the Pentatonix, all instruments are ditched except the harmonies of the human voice. It’s a wild blend of minor notes and unique musical phrases, decidedly Christmas while somehow not sounding exactly like the standard Christmas fare. 

While it’s long been one of my very favorites during the holidays, it holds particular meaning this year. The song was originally written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914, with the lyrics written by Ukrainian Peter J. Wilhousky. They based their composition on a Ukrainian folk song, called Shchedryk, meaning ‘the generous one.’ The song immediately became popular in Ukraine when it was performed, but by 1916 was out of favor because of the Soviet occupation of Ukraine. But when it was brought to the United States in the early 1920s and performed by at Carnegie Hall, its popularity soared. English lyrics were then added and since that time, it has become a Christmas favorite.

And now, this year, it holds even more significance in light of the Russian invasions of Ukraine and all that the Ukrainian people are enduring.

As you and your family are enjoying all the songs of the Christmas season, I’d love to encourage you to take a moment any time you hear Carol of the Bells come on and give a prayer for those in the midst of such turmoil and oppression in Ukraine. And think afresh on the lyrics that were added in English when Carol of the Bells made its debut here in the United States:

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold,

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling

One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air

Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o’er hill and dale,
telling their tale,

Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here,

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home
Dong Ding dong ding… dong! Bong!

May the people of Ukraine realize again one day the joy of these words and may we all appreciate the power and heart of the season.1

Father God, we ask that this Christmas season you be with those in Ukraine, those who are experiencing loss and upheaval in this time of war. May we find ways to offer support, not just with our words but with our resources. And Father, we pray for those making decisions in these geopolitical realms. May they seek to help the oppressed. May they pursue the cause of peace. In the name of Jesus we ask this, amen.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9, ESV