Bellringers Take to the Streets on Christmas Eve

A beloved holiday tradition returns to the neighborhood on Christmas Eve, with the annual performance by the Beacon Hill Bellringers, including caroling and the pealing of historic handbells, set to kick off on Sunday, Dec. 24, at 8 p.m. on the steps of 17 Louisburg Square.

​The Ringers, comprising Pamela Madigan and her daughter, Victoria Madigan; Robert Johnson; Charles Gibson; Griff Gall; and Greg Urban, will offer an approximately hour-long concert, which will feature ‘St. Paul’s Steeple’ – the traditional opening and closing peal inspired by the change ringers at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Other song selections will include ‘Joy To the World’; ‘The First Noel’; ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’;  ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’; ‘Angels We Have Heard on High’; ‘We Three Kings of Orient Are’; ‘Good King Wenceslas’; ‘Jingle Bells’; ‘Away In A Manger’; ‘Deck The Halls’; ‘O Christmas Tree’;  ‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’; ‘Silent Night’; and ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas.’

​For the event, which typically draws between 200 and 300 guests, the Ringers will distribute around 100 complimentary programs, as well as sleigh bells for children to accompany them on ‘Jingle Bells.’ All are welcome to attend, and guests are encouraged to dress warmly and bring a small flashlight to read carols.

​In the past, guest have traveled from all over Massachusetts, among other locations, to attend the event, according to Pamela Madigan, coordinator of the Ringers.

​“To them, this is an incredibly spiritual time,” she said. “It’s almost indescribable, which is why the Ringers feel the importance of continuing this wonderful tradition. At least there’s peace on earth and goodwill to all [at this event], and that’s something we need more of in the world.”

​The tradition dates back 99 years to 1924, when Margaret Shurcliff, who was born in 1879 and raised at 55 Mt. Vernon St. – now the site of the Nichols House Museum – began bell-caroling with family and friends on Christmas Eve around Beacon Hill. Her inspiration and interest in bell-ringing was drawn from her father Dr. Arthur Howard Nichols, a prominent Boston physician who was also an accomplished ringer.

Margaret and her father traveled to England in 1902, where she became the first American woman to ring a complete peal of tower bells. She was presented with an octave of Whitechapel handbells from London to take back to America. Her love and enthusiasm for handbells subsequently led to the creation of The New England Guild of English Handbell Ringers, which grew to become The American Guild of English Handbell Ringers and is now known as The Handbell Musicians of America.

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