16# The legend of Christmas Bells
Bells, especially Church Bells, have traditionally been associated with Christmas for a long time.
In some churches it is traditional that the largest bell in the church is rung four times in the hour before midnight and then at midnight all the bells are rung in celebration.
In the Catholic Church, Christmas and Easter are the only times that Mass is allowed to be held at Midnight, and It’s traditional that at both midnight Masses, the church and altar bells too in many cases are rung while the Priest says the “Gloria” (Gloria in excelsis Deo).
Apparently, having a Mass at Midnight at Christmas dates back to the early church, when it was believed that Jesus was born at midnight, although there has never been any proof of this.
In Victorian times, it was very fashionable to go carol singing with small handbells to play the tune of the carol and sometimes there would only be the bells and no singing. But, in any case, handbell ringing is still popular today.
In many Catholic countries such as France, Spain and Italy, the midnight mass service is very important and everyone tries to go to a service.
Perhaps the most famous bells at Christmas now are the ones in the song popular worldwide “Jingle Bells”. However, the song was first called “One Horse Open Sleigh” and was originally published, in the USA, in September 1857 as a Thanksgiving song and not a Christmas one.
But it soon became associated with Christmas because of the lyrics, with many choirs that were singing it at Christmas in the 1860s and 1870s.
Jingle Bells was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and the original version was slightly different tune than are used today. There is also some debate as to where it was written. Some people claim it was written in 1850 Medford, Massachusetts, while other claim it was written nearer 1875 when its author lived in Savannah, Georgia.
Jingle Bells was also the first song to be broadcast from space in December 1965 when the astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra said they had spotted a sleigh in space.
They then took out a harmonica and sleigh bells which they had smuggled onto the Gemini 6 space craft and played and sang the song to mission control.
There is also a traditional legend related to the Christmas bells. As story goes, shepherds flocked to Bethlehem as they traveled to meet the newborn king. A blind child sat on the side of the main road and, hearing the announcement of the angels, he begged passersby to lead him to the Baby Jesus, but no one had time for him. When the crowd had passed and the streets were quiet again, the boy heard the faint toll of a cattle bell in the distance. He thought that perhaps that cow was in the very stable where the child was born, and so he followed the bell to the stable where the cow carried him to the manger where Baby Jesus lay.