In English, it's called Carol of the Bells, and has become a regular part of the December soundscape.
But the Ukrainian original—like folk carols all over Europe—although sung at Christmas, doesn't have anything to do with Christmas.
Instead, it's about spring.
Which is to say: it's thoroughly pagan, through and through. Because to pagans, Yule isn't just a self-referential blaze that sits in its own golden halo at the end of the year; it's the first spark of what comes next, a collective turning towards spring, and the growing season to come.
Early 20th-century maverick archaeologist Margaret Murray (1863-1963) needs no introduction, her 1921 Witch-Cult in Western Europe having been instrumental in getting the whole witchcraft-revival wheel turning.
Before becoming a revisionist historian, however, she was first and foremost an Egyptologist. Her somewhat libertarian translation of a 19th Dynasty hymn to the Sun’s rebirth makes a charming (if rather ponderous) addition to the repertoire of Yule carols, especially for those of us weary of “little Lord Sun God, asleep in the hay”-type rewrites.
For the non-Egyptians among us, I've appended a de-Kemetized version as well.
A few posts back, I wrote about the need for more Ivy carols to replace those that we've lost. Well, here's a new one. For reasons best known only to my poet's intuition, I've cast it in the form of an Elizabethan art song. I've tried to remain true both to botanical reality and to the genre's traditional (if playful) gender wars. There's a tune waiting out there somewhere, I'm sure of it.
Lots of us have a hard time figuring out holiday music. We want something that evokes the sound of Yuletide music from our childhoods but we don’t want to be forced to celebrate a religious experience that we don’t share. So here’s a short list of some Pagan Yuletide music that you can share!
British composer Peter Warlock (b. Phillip Heseltine, 1894-1930) wrote this charming little lullaby as a Christmas carol in 1926. (You can hear the original here, in an arrangement by Andrew Carter.)
I've re-written the lyrics slightly—certainly it could still be sung as a Yule carol—to make it into a general, any-time lullaby for any boy-child: baby god, baby warlock, or otherwise.
For this I make no apologies. I suspect that a man who, because of his active interests in the occult, took the name "Warlock," would be delighted to know that witches were singing his song to their babies.