simple symbols, complex connection. All around the world, for centuries, people have used bells for any number of purposes—both functional and spiritual. Today, we associate certain bells with Christmastime. What’s the connection? How does it make us feel?
“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” – It’s a Wonderful Life
Every culture, every religion has some form of bell. We may take it for granted—this simple thing that dates back thousands of years before Christ’s birth. Bells have served all kinds of different purposes, from ceremonial to practical.
There are too many notable bells to count—from the astronomical clock of Prague that’s been rung by a representation of death every hour for the past 600 years, to Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell that’s most famous for having broken on its very first chime, to the Bell of King Seongdeok in Korea which is said to have made no sound at all after it was first completed. There have been bells for sacred blessings, bells to bring sailors home safely, bells to lead shepherds to their sheep, and bells to make melodic tunes.
There is such a broad spectrum of sophistication that can go into bell-making: from simple shells, to ornate works of art large enough to fill a room. But the one commonality that can be found is that bells exist in some form throughout the world, and the sound has a unique ability to stir something inside the human spirit. The sound of church bells echoing throughout towns early in the morning can be comforting and familiar. A bell choir at Christmastime can give a haunting chill, entrancing listeners with its reverberating echo.
The sound of sleigh bells, originally used to alert travelers to the approach of a horse-drawn sleigh (which moves silently through soft snow), has become an iconic sound synonymous with holiday cheer. But even in areas of the world that never see snow, they have bells that serve practical functions. And during a time of year that brings people together, prompts us to share a smile with a stranger and make connections with our larger family of all humankind, it’s especially comforting to think about our alikeness as we see and hear a symbol we can all share.
What is it about that sound that conjures such warm feelings?
Is it the association with spiritual places?
The passing of time?
Or is it simply the comfort that comes with finding common ground in an unfamiliar place.
In the village of Behat (in the Uttar Pradesh region of India) there’s a small workshop of metalworkers who are crafting bells in the same way their ancestors did.
They collect recycled iron sheets that they can cut into a basic, flat shape.
They pound the iron with a hammer, forming it into a three-dimensional bell, using rivets to keep it in place.
Next, they cover the bell with a mixture of clay, jute, and tiny bits of brass.
The clay-encrusted bells are baked in an oven.
And the bits of brass melt onto the iron to create an outer finish with a golden, textured effect.
The final step is to add rope and wood to make these bells chime, and the final result is gorgeous.
As children all around the world tuck in to bed on Christmas Eve, there’s always a certain calm and quietness that hangs peacefully in the air. And if you listen close enough, you may just hear the sound of bells chiming far off in the distance.