“Carol of the Bells,” known in Ukraine as “Shchedryk,” started as a traditional Ukrainian folk chant that would probably not have found its way to a worldwide fame had Mykola Leontovych not written the music for it 100 years ago.

The tune as we know it today took Leontovych 15 years to perfect, as the music had four different editions, the first one as early as in 1901-1902, before its final one in 1916, the same year that the choir of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv performed “Shchedryk” for the first time.

Fast forward 20 years and “Shchedryk” received its English lyrics, written by an American composer of Ukrainian descent, Peter Wilhouski, who called it “Carol of the Bells.”

Wilhouski rewrote the text, instead of translating it, and what was a Ukrainian chant about a swallow flying into a household to sing about wealth, in English became a more general song about the bells, caroling, and Christmas greetings.


As the world celebrates the 100-year anniversary of “Shchedryk” (“Carol of the Bells”), the Kyiv Post takes a look at eight times it looked and sounded differently.

When Trans-Siberian Orchestra gave it a sad (but hopeful) note

This instrumental, progressive rock version was inspired by the real story of a Serbian cello player Vedran Smailovic, who left his hometown to become a well-respected musician. A few decades later he returns to a war-torn Sarajevo to climb on piles of ruins and play timeless melodies on his cello. The video for the tune features footage of the tragic 1992-1995 Bosnian War, as well as other important international events.

When flash mob in a Ukrainian train turned it into a message of unity

This performance is notable because it was carried out and filmed when the Ukrainian 2013-2014 EuroMaidan protests just started and the nation was determined in promoting its culture and unity. In the video, the beautiful singing of the youth is juxtaposed to the old and worn-out interior of the Ternopil-Lviv elektrychka (an electric train). Many of the enthusiastic men and women gradually join in into the festive singing, while some of the coach onlookers don’t even wake up.


When Katie Melua & The Gori Women’s Choir sang it in Ukrainian live on BBC

Georgian-British singer Katie Melua decided to go for the original Ukrainian version of the festive tune to sing live on BBC. Quite impressively Melua, who was born in Georgia and lived in the U.K. most of her life, provides a perfect pronunciation of the Ukrainian lyrics.

“Many people know it as “Carol of the Bells,” (but its) roots are from Ukraine,” Melua commented her choice before her TV performance.

When Pentatonix made an a capella version

Pentatonix, a five-member American a capella group mostly famous for their fantastic covers of global hits, recorded their version of “Shchedryk” (“Carol of the Bells”) in 2012, and many still argue it to be the best ever cover of the Christmas song. The video for this powerful a capella version has over 72 million views on YouTube.

When Ukrainian volunteer soldiers used it as a peace message

Olga Buina-Doroftey, who uploaded this video to YouTube says the three soldiers only had two hours to record this song and video, and after that they returned to the war zone. Wearing soldier uniforms in trenches and in a recording studio – the soldiers radiate strength, unity and hope, while they sing, laugh and hug each other.


When X-factor contestant Santa Danelevycha altered the song, but retained its beauty and soulfulness

Changing the style of a world famous hit, especially sacred to Ukrainians, is a risky move, but Danelevycha was right to pursue it. She raised the whole audience by the end of the performance, who clapped and chanted “Bravo!” This interpretation of the song was created together with her mentor at the X-factor show, Ukrainian singer Ivan Dorn.

When Tina Karol turned it into a visually stunning performance

In this very visual performance Ukrainian singer Tina Karol gives goose bumps with her soothing singing together with a children’s choir in front of old mosaics and frescoes of the Kyiv’s Saint Sophia Cathedral. Reportedly this is the first time the Kyiv’s favorite landmark opened its doors for such a big filming process. In the video Karol is also seen playing a clay sopilka (Ukrainian folk instrument), which the singer claims to have learned specifically for this performance.

When NBA superstars performed it without any music or singing


This version of “Shchedryk” was created rather differently to the rest on this list. Five of the NBA biggest superstars, who dribble the tune with basketballs, were filmed separately in different locations – from Miami to Los Angeles. The final version was then put together and created digitally. During the recording process NBA players followed a color-coded monitor (like in some video games), which lights up on different sides so that the basketball player knows which side to dribble on and when.

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