Stephen F. Austin State University

Silver Bells (December 2011)

Silver Bells

By Vina Lee

City sidewalks indeed are dressed in holiday style this year just as they were when Jim Reeves penned this now famous Christmas melody probably somewhere near the square in Carthage, Texas. There is a feeling of Christmas even as the skeletal limbs of naked trees reach upward grabbing the gray sky as if to pull the magic of the season into being.

Bell ringers stand on the street corners where the strings of street lights blink along with the stop lights of bright red and green. If we are lucky, at noon the church bells peal old hymns and carols from steeples and bell towers near the center of town.

I find myself in the old square wondering what it was like in 1840 before paved roads made travel easy. Single horse trails led into Carthage which became the county seat in 1848. Streets just wide enough to accommodate a horse drawn wagon were decorated with pine boughs and red fabric, much as it is today. The first houses were often multi-family homes with generations of the same family living in them. Christmas trees were pine or spruce. The custom was to light the trees with small bees wax candles held on the limbs with melted wax. Bells were used to keep up with the horses, pets and small children as they trudged through town from the general store to the stable via boardwalks.

Candlelight church services and singing was the usual evening tradition and at Christmas, prayers and songs reminded family and friends how thankful they were to be alive. The Christmas story from Luke was often told from drawing room to drawing room and cherished handmade gifts were held close to the heart. Truly, silver bells rang in the hearts and minds of each shopper hurrying home with surprises to go under the tree. Cinnamon, nutmeg, myrrh, lace and ribbons for the ladies and hats, scarves and gloves for the men and hand carved toys for the children.

Silver Bells, Silver Bells
City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air
There's a feeling
Of Christmas
Children laughing
People passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on ev'ry street corner you'll hear

Silver bells, silver bells
It's Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring
Soon it will be Christmas day.

A life-sized sculpture of Jim Reeves marks his grave on a plot of ground covered with many Christmas trees three miles east of Carthage on U.S. Highway 79. We remember his songs, Silver Bells, Blue Christmas and there's An Old Christmas Card in an old dusty trunk and it brings back sweet memories dear to me about his first Christmas with his sweetheart and I remember twinkling lights on Panola Street with mine.