A Sunday in the life of the Christmas Bells

Ann McHale gives a ringer’s perspective…

At 11 o’clock skaters whirl and twirl, slip, slide, fall over and pick themselves up. Reindeer shuffle in their pen, and a festive horse and carriage carries children and grown-ups alike to see the sights – Its Christmas again at Kew. After the excitement of the cold, it is warming and festive to go inside the Orangery for something hot and to hear the Christmas Handbell ringers play familiar tunes – that is us! I’m dreaming of a White Christmas and Silent Night bring back happy memories, and excited but nervous children look imploringly hoping to be chosen to play the Jingle bells or to clip clop the coconuts. At one o’clock the bells stop and provide a different kind of entertainment as tables and drapes are whisked through the Orangery windows, the bells are packed into their boxes and vanish to the waiting trailer, for we have another venue to go to.

It is the end of term at a Yorkshire school, and 10 year old Olive is raucously carolling down the road home with her friends Doris and Eva. They are shouting While Shepherds Watched to the tune of Ilkley Moor Bah Tat. Eighty years later Olive is still lively and popular. She loves the entertainment at the nursing home, and today there is a delicious smell of festive cooking, and handbells playing. The leader says the he is now going to invite everyone to join in singing While Shepherds Watched, but to a different tune, and can anyone guess what that tune might be? Olive is quick to reply and the leader is delighted that she is right. The large print versions are handed out, and everyone sings – Olive is back on the Yorkshire dales again singing with Doris and Eva. Afterwards, all are fed a magnificent tea before we, the handbell ringers set out for something more serious.

It is after 6.30 at St Lawrence Church, Chobham, the home of the Chobham handbell ringers. The tower bell ringers have let Chobham know that their carol service is about to begin, and the service has started The altar looks festive with the full range of the bells gleaming, and the crib awaits the baby Jesus. The Rural Dean is having no wimps in his congregation. He has divided them into three groups and they are to sing the chorus of Now the Holly Bears a Berry as a round – The rise: The rise: The rising of the sun, and the running of the deer. The group containing the handbell ringers, he feels are rather stronger than group 1, so this time he will help group 1. All have a go and enjoy themselves. Some Christmas poems and readings give food for thought, and the choir sing beautifully. It is our turn, and we play O Holy Night as we have not played it before today, with expression and feeling – accuracy even!. The bells are tucked up in their cupboard, and it is time to finish off a busy day with mince pies and mulled wine in company with the congregation, feeling that we have triggered happy memories to add to the enjoyment of the Christmas season for many people.

(Please note that the name of Olive, and her little story is made up, but there was certainly a lady at the home who knew the tune mentioned above from having been brought up in Yorkshire, and I am hopeful that the Vicar will forgive any inaccuracies in the telling of his carol service.)