An Old Carol for a New Year

When the Ukrainian National Chorus performed before a sold-out audience in Carnegie Hall on October 5, 1921, a song known as Shchedryk was particularly well-received. Already popular in other parts of the world, the song had been composed by Ukrainian Mykola Leontovych, a musician commissioned by another choir director, Oleksander Koshyts, to write a song based on Ukrainian folk melodies. To meet his obligation, Leontovych turned to the simple melody and lyrics of an ancient well-wishing song associated with celebrations of the Orthodox New Year (January 14 in the Gregorian calendar).

Eventually, an American choral director named Peter Wilhousky heard Leontovych’s work. Wilhousky, who also enjoyed creating new arrangements of traditional works, was inspired by Shchedryk’s bell-like ostinato to attempt to capture the sound for his choir. After writing new lyrics, then copyrighting and publishing the song in 1936, several choirs under Wilhousky’s direction began performing his work during the Christmas season, introducing it as the “Carol of the Bells.”

Thanks in part to his Czech heritage, Wilhousky was familiar with an old Slavic legend that, at midnight on the evening Jesus was born, bells began spontaneously ringing in his honor. Wilhousky’s ability to capture that echo of ringing bells helped to make “Carol of the Bells” extraordinarily popular, especially in the United States and Canada.

Today, nearly two hundred instrumental and vocal arrangments of the “Carol of the Bells” exist, but neither Leontovych’s Shchedryk nor the folk tunes it drew from mention  bells or Christmas. The song we know as a Christmas carol began life as a Ukrainian New Year’s carol with distinctly pagan roots.

Two primary groups of carols emerged in Ukraine: koliadky — festive, ritual songs sung on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day — and a second group called shchedriky, or New Year’s carols. The shchedriky derive their name from the Ukrainian word shchedryi, meaning bountiful, or generous, and they’re traditionally sung in villages on New Year’s Eve.

Both koliadky and shchedrivky include imagery from nature. One tells of a landowner who is awakened by a swallow and urged to prepare for three guests coming to his house: the sun, the moon, and the rain. The shchedrivka known as Shchedryk tells of a swallow coming to a landowner’s house and inviting him to survey his bountiful flocks and fields.

The koliadky and shchedrivky depict scenes from farm life and express the desire for good harvests, prosperity, good fortune, and health. They are remarkable for their wealth of subject matter and motifs, which vary with the person who is addressed and praised in each carol.
There are carols dedicated to the master of the house, the mistress of the house, the young bachelor, the girl, the daughter-in-law, the son-in-law, and so on.
The carols dedicated to the master deal with farm work: they glorify prosperity, the happiness of a well-off farmer, and his well-being. The songs for the young bachelor depict his strength, courage, and good looks. The carols for girls praise their unmatched beauty, wisdom, deep love, diligence, and respect for parents.
The descriptions of prosperity, beauty, and wisdom are magical incantations intended to secure the described effects.

Leontovych’s Shchedryk perfectly captured the beauty of Ukrainian shchedrivky: the well-wishing tunes were a beloved tradition. Unfortunately, not everyone wished Leontovych well. He became a martyr in the Eastern Orthodox Ukrainian Church after being assassinated in his parents’ home in Markovka on January 25, 1921, by an agent of the Cheka (Soviet Secret Police).

прилeтiла ластiвочка ~ A little swallow flew  (Photo, Susan Scheid)

Victoria Frolova, a Ukrainian native now living in Brussels, recalls:

Visiting my grandparents in their small hamlet near Poltava, I loved walking around on January 13th and smelling the heady aromas in the crisp, wintery air–mlyntsi (crepes), varenyky (boiled dumplings), poppyseed bubliki (bagels), and garlicky holodets (pork in aspic).
As soon as evening falls, groups of boys and girls, with me, a curious city kid, in tow, would go around singing “Shchedryk” and other festive verses. And taking a goat for a walk.
The most intriguing of all Shchedriy Vechir customs is to make visiting rounds with a goat, and not just any goat: a female goat, or “koza.” In many cultures, goats are not considered noble animals, but in Ukrainian folk beliefs, the she-goat is a symbol of fertility, wealth and good fortune. Being visited by koza, a she-goat, on the New Year’s Eve is considered lucky.

Luck, magic, incantation, ritual: there are hints of all four in New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world. While ringing in the New Year with bells is a lovely tradition, singing in the New Year with power-filled incantations has its own appeal. Whether you ring or whether you sing, may the swallows wing their way to you, and may you be granted a happy and prosperous 2021.

Paintings in the video are those of the Russian-Ukrainian artist Vladimir Orlovsky (1842-1914).
Below, the first four lines of the song are written in the Cyrillic script used in Ukraine. A transliteration and full English lyrics follow.
Щедрик щедрик, щедрiвочка,
прилeтiла ластiвочка,
стала собi щебетати,
господаря викликати…


Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka,
stala sobi shchebetaty,
gospodarya vyklykaty:
“Vyydy, vyydy, gospodaryu,
podyvysya na kosharu,
tam ovechky pokotylys’,
a yagnychky narodylys’.
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku groshey,
V tebe tovar ves’ khoroshyy,
budesh’ maty mirku groshey,
khoch ne groshey, to polova:
v tebe zhinka chornobrova.”
Shchedryk shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
pryletila lastivochka.

English Text:

Shchedryk, shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
A little swallow flew [into the house]
and started to twitter
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master [of the household].
Look at the sheep pen;
there the ewes are nestling
and the lambkins have been born.
Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money [by selling them];
if not money, then chaff [from grain you will harvest].
You have a dark-browed [beautiful] wife.”
Shchedryk, shchedryk, shchedrivochka,
A little swallow flew.

Comments always are welcome.

123 thoughts on “An Old Carol for a New Year

  1. How lovely to have the background for the Carol of the Bells. The old lyrics tell a story and somehow make me wander back to a time when verse could inspire fond wishes for all those we love. Perfect for welcoming a new year and I thankyou for sharing.

    1. When you mentioned verses inspiring fond wishes for those we love, I was taken back to the vintage post cards that so often were exchanged. Bluebirds and flowery swags, bucolic landscapes, and elaborate text communicated the same feeling — a desire to affirm relationships, and then move forward. What could be better for this year?

  2. A great post again. And so well researched. My goodness. The timing too, so perfect. I will be listening to this beautiful Ukrainian folk carol a few times over. I am in self isolation having gone for my second Covid test just this morning.
    It is strange how foreign music, especially Easter European music always seems to beckon me, wake me up to a previous life. I prefer this so much more than ‘Mary Poppins’.

    1. So many New Year celebrations are rooted in the past, from bonfires, to mistletoe, to ‘first footing,’ or Hogmanay. I’ll be enjoying the traditional black-eyed peas and greens tomorrow, like a good Texan, and probably listening to this carol a time or two myself. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  3. Visions of line dancing of “youths” across the generations immediately fill my mind. In fact, I want to rise from my computer chair and start dancing. That is an upbeat greeting of the new year!

    1. It is upbeat, and I hope you will do some dancing in the next days — perhaps even a little singing. Prohibitions against singing and dancing are not only Puritanical, they’re antithetical to human nature. As Lawrence Durrell once wrote, beware of “old ladies of both sexes” who seek to stamp out all pleasure!

  4. “Whether you ring or whether you sing, may the swallows wing their way to you, and may you be granted a happy and prosperous 2021.”

    I love this sentence, Linda.

    Thank you for the informative post, and I wish you a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2021.

    1. That sentence is a favorite of mine as well, Sandi. It came winging in all on its own, and I was glad to capture it. I suspect there won’t be as much first-footing as usual in your part of the world this year, but I hope your celebrations are glad ones, and that the year to come is a good one for you.

    1. It’s a wonderful culture. I first encountered it in Canada, and have great memories of the people I met there. Here’s to a new year filled with new friends and new experiences; as one of our Texas singer-songwriters put it, “the road goes on forever, and the party never ends.” Or at least, if the party ends, the road’s still there!

    1. There are so many interesting songs embedded in cultures around the world; I’m glad to have intoduced you to this one. All my best to ‘all y’all’ for the New Year!

    1. “Exhilarating” is a good word. There’s something about the song’s energy that’s truly spirit-lifting; it’s another reminder of the value of traditions.

  5. It is 1 hour and 4 minutes into 2021 as I type this comment. Lovely to be listening to a New Year’s carol to start the New Year. May there be well-being and goodness a plenty for you in 2021.

    1. I thought of you when I posted this. I’ve finally broken the habit of thinking only in terms of my own time zone when I post a holiday entry. The first step was taking the east coast of the U.S. into consideration — then, England came into play. Now, I think about New Zealand and Australia, too — thanks to you and a few others.

      The very thought of a New Year’s carol pleases me so much. Bringing in the year with song seems so appropriate!

    1. I’ve not managed to capture a swallow in flight, yet, but I’ll work on it this year. Like you and Miriam, I’ve profited by both work and play being outdoor pursuits this year, but I’m hoping that in the new year we’ll have opportunity to share those special places with people as we have in the past.

    1. Isn’t it a great song? As much as I’ve always enjoyed Christmas caroling, I think I might enjoy New Year caroling through a village, too. Still, any kind of caroling would do to keep a smile on my face!
      Happy New Year to you and yours, GP!

    1. It’s probably just as well you don’t have a goat, John. Lucy and Twiggy might make your walks a little more of an effort than you’d care to put out. On the other hand, there are those of us who think the girls are GOATS — the greatest of all time!

  6. I appreciate the “encore presentation” because I’d forgotten the origins of this popular Christmas song. There’s a lot we’ve borrowed from the Ukraine. Did you recognize mlyntsi as blintzes? English and many other languages don’t tolerate beginning a word with ml but the Slavic languages have no problem with it. Whatever you’re eating today, Happy New Year.

    1. I wondered about the mlyntsi when I saw them described as crepes. I didn’t make it all the way to blintzes, though; I thought they might be akin to lefse or Ethiopian injera. By the time I finished reading the Wiki article about Blini, I was ready for some cheese blintzes, and lo: there’s a place called Pierogi Queen on Main Street in League City that serves them. It’s just on the other side of the Gulf Freeway. I’ve never heard of the restaurant, but it would be worth giving them a try. It certainly beats a trip to the New York deli in Houston.

      Tomorrow’s menu will be black-eyed peas and ham with greens, though. Texas tradition has its place, as well.

      1. From your linked article I clicked another link and learned that the name of the famous Czech composer Smetana means cream, and in particular a kind of sour cream. Let’s hope your League City pierogi are tasty.

  7. I spent years studying Russian history and language in the 1990s, but learned little about Ukraine or its culture. I wish I had made more of an effort to do so. New Year’s Day (Новый год) is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia, so it must be very important in Ukraine as well.

    Great post, Linda!

    1. Somehow I missed that you’d spent so much time studying Russian language and culture; is that when you became interested in the cards you share with us?

      I did a little more exploring, and found some interesting information at a site called Ukrainian Chicago. It mentions a Ukrainian holiday called Malanka, and says:

      “Like Kupalo, Malanka has pre-Christian origins, but has taken on deeply Christian symbolism. While originally the holiday emphasized the interplay between the merciful moon goddess, Mylanka, and mischievous earth-dwellers, today it has become an extension of Christmas, the star of Bethlehem, and St. Mylania the Younger, a 5th century Christian known for her love and mercy.
      Malanka happens to fall on New Year’s eve, and the customs associated with Malanka—caroling, pageants, dancing—are often synonymous with New Year celebrations.”

      There’s always more to the story!

      1. Well, I haven’t talked about my background in Russian Studies much on my blog. I should probably add something about it to my About page. But to answer your question, I was long past my Russia phase when I started collecting old photos. I was working at an art gallery, one that specialized in 19th c. paintings and prints, when I “discovered” the artistry of early portrait photographs. I’d go into antique shops looking for paintings to buy, and leave with photographs instead.

        Malanka sounds like great fun!

  8. We both smiled at “New Year’s carol with distinctly pagan roots.” Melanie said “That doesn’t surprise me.”

    Thanks and may your new year start in peace.

    1. Those pagan roots run deep, even at Christmas. For a variety of reasons I missed being able to post about some medieval carols that are quite wonderful, including “Down In Yon Forest.” The echoes of the Arthurian legend are strong in that one, and it had to be spiffed up a bit before it made the Christmas pageants!

      A happy new year to you and Melanie. May there be no more derechos, atmospheric or otherwise.

  9. This is really a wonderful piece of writing and beautiful music as well. This has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs — I had no idea it didn’t start out that way. (Although my favorite version is the SNL “Carol of Intimacy” — “Leave me alone, please go away, I’m doing fine, just get away. Please don’t touch me.” I sing it more than once every season! (I loved the paintings in the video, too!)

    1. I don’t remember hearing the “Carol of Intimacy,” but I gave up on SNL some years ago. It does remind me of another hallowed tradition: the airing of grievances associated with Festivus. I was happy to learn that Netflix has obtained the rights to Seinfeld, and all of the episodes will begin airing on that platform in 2021. See? The year’s getting better already.

      Like you, I love “Carol of the Bells, and I was fascinated to learn the history. Neither version is better or worse than the other; they’re both there to be cherished.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Both the Christmas and New Year’s carol are delightful: cheerful and uplifting. We owe more to our ancestors than we sometimes realize!

    1. Losing your computer’s sound certainly isn’t good. Did it happen recently? There have been a couple of times that my sound disappeared, but I always was able to get it back by messing around with the settings. Don’t ask me what I did wrong, or how I fixed it — all I know is that it clearly was operator error.

      The song’s so delightful, I wish you could hear it. It’s a nice, energetic tune. But I’m glad you found something of interest in the text of the post. Happy New Year — at last.

  10. I had no idea the source of one of my favorite Christmas carols was a Ukrainian New Year’s folk song.

    This was lovely, Linda. Thank you and best wishes for fresh start for us all in 2021.

    I need a goat to go visiting with.

    1. Just think: you could name the goat Charlie in honor of Steinbeck. I suspect it would be a good conversation starter (if the goat itself weren’t enough).

      There have been times this year it’s felt as though we were traveling with a goat — or a group of them. I just learned that a collective noun for goats is ‘trip.’ For some reason, that makes perfect sense. Anyone who’s tried traveling with them probably would feel a though they’d been on a long, strange trip. Here’s to better traveling in 2021.

  11. Love the history and cultural connections – now I know why the little birds appear so often ( and the bells) Wonderful bird pictures ( The ducks are everywhere in the waterways yesterday and today.)
    Stay snug – winter arrived just minutes ago. Cheers and merry on!

    1. You’re not kidding about winter. I just went out for the first time today, and discovered that the front is well and truly through. The birds have gone to shelter, and the wind chimes are nearly clattering — it’s a different kind of carol, but it certainly fits the day. A few more hours and — what? More of the same, methinks, but given what the recent “same” has been, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Keep afloat, and keep smiling!

  12. How fitting that the Carol of the Bells has its roots in a pagan tradition – like much of Christmas. As for me, I think I will ring and sing both! A blessed New Year to you Linda!!

    1. No one ever said it had to be either/or. Well, except Kierkegaard, maybe — but I never could figure out exactly where he did come down on that one! Best wishes for the New Year to you and your family, and to your Muse.

    1. I was rather fond of goat soup, myself. I just looked to see if any recipes were online, and of course they are. I had to smile at the mention of Maggi cubes. It’s been a while since I thought of those. For some reason, it makes me happy to know they’re still being sold and used.

      1. A couple of Maggi cubes, several peppers, and the goat. We hosted a goat feast once, and several Liberia women came over to help us cook up dinner. Rice and lots of Club beer. Everyone went away stuffed and happy. Even the dogs feasted! :) –Curt

    1. That makes me happy, Lavinia. I love blogging for a number of reasons, but one is that it gives me a good excuse to prowl around learning new things myself. Some people say we should write what we know, but I’ve always found it just as satisfying to write what I don’t know, and learn about it in the process! Here’s to a 2021 filled with learning, and its satisfactions.

  13. I love this blog, but don’t often comment. But I just wanted to tell you how wonderful this entry is: The Carol of the Bells is my favorite carol, and I was delighted to hear it in Ukrainian. So beautiful! I’l cherish this entry (well, I save all of them, so I can go back and reread them.)

    A Happy New Year to you, may it bring peace, health, happiness and prosperity!

    1. I was surprised and delighted to learn the history of the song, and equally delighted to hear the carol itself. Both versions have a distinctly celebratory feel. What’s even better is that the Ukrainian new year is still to come, so we can imagine people there today singing the song in real life!

    1. I’m hoping this is the year I finally get a photo of a swallow in flight. The photo of the bird at the top is the only decent swallow photo I have; either our birds are especially swift, or I’m especially slow. I’m glad the song celebrates one of your favorites!

      I’m glad to have introduced you to the carol. Here’s to a 2021 filled with even more discoveries!

    1. There’s nothing like good music — of any sort — to make the day more pleasant. I’ve enjoyed learning about music from your part of the world, so I’m glad to return the favor. Humans differ in many ways, but I can’t remember meeting many who don’t enjoy a little celebratory song. Here’s to a new year filled with music, song, and smiles!

    1. I’ve become interested in medieval carols, and that melancholy feel is common to many of them. Minor key, and all that. I missed posting about one or two of my favorites this year, thanks to the time required to straighten out the automotive chaos — but there’s always next year!

  14. What a wonderful story teller you are. I learned something … but mostly I learned that I rather prefer this version to the Christmas music one! Be well, Linda, into the new year we go. 2020: Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

    1. I laughed at your final line. I got a card this year from the good people at Copano Bay Books, down in Corpus; they specialize in Texas history. On the back of the card, they’d added the Texas version: “Don’t let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya.”

      On we go, indeed. Here’s news you can use: a friend in Wharton already has found ten-petaled anemone blooming. It may be an earlier than usual spring!

  15. I read this on our first snow (and ice, sleet and freezing rain) of the New Year. What a delight to read with a gorgeous, wintery view outside my window. The Ukrainian version had me remembering so much of the old country tradition that my Danish grandparents practiced during the holidays. I miss the little songs my grandparents sang during the traditional afternoon tea on New Year’s Day. This post brought back many wonderful memories. May this New Year bring you adventure, good health, and much happiness!

    1. Reading your description of your wintery scene, I was taken back to that glorious landscape in the film Dr. Zhivago. It’s probably not so dramatic in Oklahoma just now — at least, I hope not! — but any snow puts a smile on my face!

      Denmark and Sweden aren’t so far apart, geographically or culturally, and your reference to the New Year’s Day afternoon tea brought back some memories for me, too. We didn’t sing, but we shared stories, and it was a wonderful, relaxing time. Hopes for the New Year always predominated; that’s yet another thing we share with our grandparents. Best wishes to you, your family, and all of your creatures for the new year. Who knows that delights it will bring?

  16. I’ve always loved that Carol of the Bells, and I love this Ukrainian recording – swinging along, a merry folksong, but not without a touch of irony or realism. Let’s hope this year is one of growth and a rich harvest for everyone, it’s time for the worthless chaff to be swept away.
    Lenin, like the current version in that country, isn’t my cup of tea (and you probably want to be careful if they offer you a cup!) but even a brutal “realist” grasped the power of religion, stories, songs, and poems, and when the Bolsheviks seized the empire and its multitude of ethnic groups, they made sure to kill any preachers, writers, singers and poets that didn’t chant the party line.
    2020 was a good year for one writer, anyway, I never failed to enjoy your posts, and looking forward to what you’ll dream up for the new year, Linda, cheers! RPT

    1. That touch of irony or realism is what makes it so appealing: at least, in my opinion. I’m not much for sugary or sentimental Christmas music. “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” is great, and “Silver Bells” is a favorite, but the old music, still grounded in nature and myth, is the best. Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” is another good one, perfectly set for congregational singing.

      You’re right about Lenin, and the crew that appears to be attempting to replicate the Maoist revolution, with its destruction of the “four olds” isn’t any better. The “Singing Revolution” in Estonia certainly helped prove the power of song against dictatorships. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss out of hand the concerns of those who are uneasy about banning worship, song, and dance in our current circumstances. Of course, there’s reason enough to be nervous about others who engage in a different kind of “song and dance.”

      Anyway: there’s nothing any writer likes more than a good reader, and you’re certainly among the best! Here’s to another year of reading, writing, photographing — and wacky parody. That’s where you really shine, and I’m looking forward to seeing what else you come up with in 2021.

      1. Thank you, Linda. It’s a real pleasure to both read your articles, and to be able to discuss them with the author. I’m halfway through my program, and have been posting less frequently, and may spin off the Finger Lakes walks as a separate blog, mostly for “guest posts” from my family.
        Best wishes for the new year and looking forward to your explorations and writings.

      1. Wow, a beautiful sound and a pretty theatrical player. I’m glad they let that birdman out of his belfry, I’ve never seen a carillon-player in action before, fun!

    1. I love showing you something new, Dina — or, in this case, letting you hear something new. I hope your new year is filled with swallows and song. We’ve had about enough of shadows, don’t you think?

  17. I always learn so much from your posts! I love the Carol of the Bells, but had no idea where it came from. It’s funny how some of our most beloved Christmas songs didn’t have Christmas or Christian origins at all. I believe that “O Holy Night” was written by a Jewish musician for a Christian friend, but I’m not sure about that. Still, thinks always change and evolve with time, and Christmas carols are no exception to that. Happy New Year!

    1. After thinking about it for a while, it seems to me that I assumed Carol of the Bells was written about the same time as some of the classics, like “Walking in a Winter Wonderland.” That may be due to it being arranged by an American musician in the 1930s –it has some of the feel of traditional American choral music.

      I was intrigued by what you said about “O, Holy Night,” and looked up the history. If you’re interested, there’s quite a complete article here. It explains the supposed Jewish authorship; one person involved in its complicated history was sometimes considered to be a Jew, but it seems that wasn’t so. No matter: it’s a wonderful song, and knowing the complicated history isn’t necessary to enjoy it!

  18. Fascinating evolution of Carol of the Bells. I’m always intrigued with much of the folklore, beliefs from the agrarian years since it’s so tied to the environment. Also, there was more appreciation of animals by many farmers, or at least seemed to be for those my mother described her father kept. Goats he did not have though years later one of his sons did have goats for their milk, hoping this would benefit a severe arthritic condition of his wife. I continue to enjoy what you share here. May this new year bring you much joy!

    1. It’s always amused me that so many people today seem to consider “being grounded” a wholly mental exercise, when in fact it’s a reference back to a time and a way of life firmly attached to the physical ground. In the physical world, the connection between action and consequence is obvious, as well as occasionally poetic. When that connection is severed (in politics and government, for example) the results can be unhappy at best.

      That aside, it’s good to set aside our concerns occasionaly, and celebrate. The “Carol of the Bells” and its forerunner are fabulously celebrative, and worth a listen or two even now, with Christmas past. They help to make joy stay.

  19. Of course I’m familiar with “Carol of the Bells,” but these others? Not at all! Thank you, Linda, for helping my education this day! I’ve missed everyone immensely during my break, so bear with me as I try to play catch up!

    1. We’ve missed you, too, but it’s been good to know that you’ve been relaxing and enjoying the season with Domer. I hope you had an abundance of good music, good food, and good conversation during your holiday — and maybe even a few bells to listen to.

  20. It’s always exhilarating to hear Carol of the bells with a boy’s choir, but I liked the Slavic version even more. Thanks for showing the Ukrainian and secular origin of the tune. Caroling with goats would be great!

    1. I so enjoy the medieval carols, with their roots in myth and nature. I’d hoped to explore one or two more this year, but it didn’t happen. I think I’ll go on and do the research now, and be a bit ahead of the game for next year.

      I’m really fond of goats, and I’m with you: caroling with goats would be great fun. It would be challenging, perhaps, but the pet goats I’ve known have been relatively well-behaved.

      1. I know goats aren’t reliably cooperative. I supervised a invasive plant removal event where the goats turned up their noses at the garlic mustard. But how could they resist trotting along for a carol?

        1. Isn’t that just the way — the invasives never appeal to the ones best equipped to get rid of them. We have a plant similar to your garlic mustard, and I’ve never seen anything eating it.

          1. I was hoping they’d eat up the poison ivy, but they wouldn’t touch that either. They are effective for removing invasives according to some reports – just not the goats I walked with!

  21. The history and background information about the Carol of the Bells is fascinating. It’s interesting how the origins can be traced back to Ukranian folk melodies. Happy New Year!

    1. I’d always assumed that “Carol of the Bells” was a purely American carol: probably because the setting we know is from the 1930s, and it was an American who arranged it. I was completely entranced by the Ukranian version — although I’m still not quite able to sing along. It’s an interesting language, and I keep missing some of the syllables. My ear’s just not attuned to them, I suppose.

      Happy New Year to you, Sheryl. Here’s hoping 2021’s bells ring, and don’t just clang!

  22. Vladimir Orlovsky’s paintings are some that I have seen before in prints and in books. I have always really liked the pastoral scenes that are truly beautiful. The choir singing that marvelous song was wonderful and inspirational to hear and I am so glad that you did a post about the origins of the Carol of the Bells is indeed quite interesting but disturbing to know that the writer was killed. What a shame!

    1. I went back to the Wiki article about Leontovych, and found this about his assassination:

      “Several facts point to a political motive behind the assassination. Leontovych’s participation in the independence movement, aimed at promoting Ukraine as an independent state, earned him many enemies. His older daughter Halyna later recalled her father saying shortly before his death that he had documents to leave the country for Romania, and that he had these documents with him among his sheet music during a concert. However, after returning from tea following the concert, Leontovych noticed that someone had gone through his papers. His plans to leave the country, along with the fact that he was killed by a Soviet agent, also indicate political reasons for his death.”

      I’m always a little cautious about Wikipedia, but this seems fairly straightforward. It is sad.

      LIke you, I enjoy Orlovsky’s paintings. I didn’t learn about him until a few years ago, when I came across some of his seascapes. He certainly ranged through a wide variety of subjects.

  23. Any way you care to slice it, the Ukraine got the short end of the stick from the Soviet/Communist regime. They were the victims of a devastating famine engineered by Stalin with over 1 million dead, their “punishment” for refusing to collectivise their farms. That any of their culture has survived Communist rule is a testimony to the hardiness of the Ukrainian people and their traditions. (Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, don’t forget.) Their history explains a song of well-wishing that is in a minor key. Thanks for setting the record straight.

    1. It hasn’t been so very long since there were other events in Ukraine worthy of note, beginning with the Euromaiden protests and ending with certain accusations against a certain U.S. President who’s about to exit stage left. This Britannica article is quite good. I got engrossed in it, and read the whole thing. I watched live during the Maiden protests; if you have Netflix, they have a good documentary

      Speaking of minor keys, do you know this one? Woody Guthrie’s lyrics are delightful, and I think he’d like the music.

    1. I first came in contact with Ukrainian culture in Canada. Do you know the Canadian painter, William Kurelek? His heritage is Ukrainian, and his paintings of the Nativity have been combined with music in a wonderful video. I think it was Arti who introduced me to his work, years ago. I’m going to make a note to use it next year during Advent or Christmas.

  24. Your photographs of swallows are perfection. I can’t say how many times I’ve tried to capture one in flight as you have here. Brava. About bells, here’s something Rachmaninov said, relating to his composition “The Bells”: “The sound of church bells dominated all the cities of the Russia I used to know—Novgorod, Kiev, Moscow,” Rachmaninoff explained. “They accompanied every Russian from childhood to grave, and no composer could escape their influence. […] All my life I have taken pleasure in the differing moods and music of gladly chiming and mournfully tolling bells. This love for bells is inherent in every Russian. […] If I have been at all successful in making bells vibrate with human emotion in my works, it is largely due to the fact that most of my life was lived amid the vibrations of the bells of Moscow….In the drowsy quiet of a Roman afternoon, with Poe’s verses before me, I heard the bell voices, and tried to set down on paper their lovely tones that seemed to express the varying shades of human experience.”

    1. I must be part Russian then, because there’s nothing I love more than the sound of bells. From New Year’s Eve peals at Riverside Church to the lovely, single bell calling to worship in Breaux Bridge, every one of them is a gem. I suppose that’s part of why I love my tuned wind chimes as I do; they have a bell-like quality that’s lovely.

      By the way: I have proof for you right here that you can take wonderful photos of swallows in flight. That swallow swooping through the middle of the post? Take another look at the photographer I credited!

    1. Interesting and fun are qualities much to be desired, Otto — especially after the ghastly year we’ve just finished. Obviously, the challenges remain, but there’s no reason not to lighten things up from time to time, or to share good wishes for the year to come. I hope your’s is enjoyable and productive — and that you can begin traveling again. You might enjoy my account of my last photographic journey of 2020; I wrote about it very briefly here.

  25. I’ve not heard of the old Slavic legend about the bells ringing spontaneously at midnight on Christmas Eve to honor the birth of Jesus. It’s charming. The lyrics of the New Year Eve songs are rather basic. Not sure about the dark-browed wife idea. Seems limiting. What about us blonde-browed wives? Are we not beautiful, too?

    1. I’d not worry too much about being left out of the ‘dark-browed’ definition of beauty. After all, you get ‘fair-haired,’ which actually seems better! My hunch is that culture and ethnicity play into such descriptions. The idea of beauty in a Ukrainian song’s probably going to differ from that found in Sweden or Denmark. The pageants celebrating Santa Lucia aren’t known for their dark-browed participants.

      I’d never heard of the spontaneously ringing bells, either. It is a charming legend; I wonder if it was born from the sound of birdsong?

  26. Thank you for this insight into some of the traditions behind New Years’ celebrations!

    One of my Russian professors was Ukrainian and she would provide some of this history during the holidays. Fascinating!

    The sounds of bells permeated our experience living in Germany. From the daily announcement of time ringing on each hour, to the tumultuous clanging as churches let out on Sundays, to the incredible occurrence of our first New Year’s Eve with bells pealing across to the countryside to, our favorite, the gentle tinkling of bells around the necks of cattle in the pastures.

    We hope all of us will have a wonderful New Year!

    1. Your description of the bells in Germany — especially their variety — is so pleasing. I’ve always been fascinated with change-ringing, and wish there were more opportunties to experience the art. As for cowbells, who doesn’t need more cowbell? (No, not like that.) Have you heard of kulning, the Swedish practice of calling cows home? Here’s an example, with cowbells..

  27. I so enjoyed the Ukrainian celebration here, Linda, with the goats and carols and swallows and bells. Fascinating information. Orlovsky’s paintings in the YouTube video were a beautiful final touch, so many serene, pastoral scenes. Sending wishes to you for a new year of beauty.

    1. The combination of carols and bells with goats and swallows is a good reminder of the beauty that can emerge when nature and human custom combine. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and I certainly am hoping — with a good portion of our nation — that this can be a year of greater beauty and less strife. Thank you for your good wishes; I hope that you and Athena are blessed with serenity in the coming year.

  28. Thanks for the link to the wonderful performance of the Carol of the Bells. It is a favorite song performed in so many ways.
    As always I am impressed by your research and how you present it in such an interesting fashion.
    Belatedly, Happy New Year, Linda. All the best to come your way!

    1. One of the interesting things about “Carol of the Bells” is that it works both as an instrumental and as a choral work. I would think that’s part of the genius of the arrangement. Oddly, my least favorite versions are those done by handbell choirs; they always seem a little thin.

      I think most of us have figured out that the transition to 2021 isn’t going to involve a magical end to problems, but it is a new year, with new opportunities for resolving at least some of the issues. We may not be able to solve all the big problems, but at least we can tend to some of the smaller ones!

      1. From little acorns…solving some of the smaller issues may help to alleviate the larger. Time will tell but a new year always gives us a chance to hit the restart button.

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