Carol of the Bells: How a Ukrainian folk tune adapted by murdered composer became a Christmas classic


“The Ukrainian version has nothing to do with bells or Christmas. The lyrics tell the tale of a swallow summoning the master of the house to look at his livestock and the bounty the coming spring season will bring as well as to look at his beautiful dark-eyebrowed wife. In pre-Christian times, the coming of the new year and spring were celebrated in March.

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“Shchedryk” came to prominence in its current version during a tumultuous and bloody period. The Romanov dynasty, which then ruled a vast part of Ukraine, fell in March 1917 and for a brief moment, an independent Ukrainian state—the Ukrainian People’s Republic—was declared in 1918. Symon Petliura, the president, saw the value in promoting Ukrainian culture around the world to gain support for his fledgling state. And it was in this window that the chorus, under Koshetz’s leadership, embarked on its tour.” (

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