Korean Kids' Song: Christmas Bells (탄일종) by Jang Sucheol (장수철)

Here's another Korean children's classic Christmas song, this time a native home-grown one that's a Korean original. No translation from English here. 

This song is called 탄일종, literally "Christmas Bells." It's a classic written by Korean religious musician/composer 장수철 (Jang Sucheol). 

Music of Christmas Bells (탄일종). Image: Naf

Background of Jang Sucheol, "Christmas Bells," and a bit about James Wade

As far as I can tell, there isn't much in English about Jang Sucheol, including even what would be the "right" way to Romanize his name. So you might find him someday listed as anything from Jang Sucheol to Chang Soo Chul. 

That's a shame because according to articles about him, he had an incredibly storied, interesting, and productive life, from being born in what's now North Korea during the Japanese occupation to surviving the Korean War to becoming a music PhD and professor. But for a foreigner perspective, he could be known for being heavily involved with the famous touring World Vision Korean Orphans' Choir, originally the 선명회어린이합창단. The group was featured often in Life magazine and on many TV programs so I would bet there are some USA-based photos or clips of Jang out there somewhere. 

If you can read some Korean, you can find more about him:

There is conflicting information here, but it seems like he most likely wrote this song at the explicit request of his son's school teacher who knew of his fame as a composer and wanted a special Christmas song to do with the kids. 

Apparently that original version was missing the 3rd verse [below], which was only added after the death of Jang's son and is a clear reference to the boy. Truly tragic. 

Jang composed the lyrics while his wife composed the melody.   

Also at the Wikipedia link above, you can see snapshots of some of the text of the song, converted into a more English friendly modification presumably for those World Vision choir tours to the USA. 

He was also apparently a friend of James Wade, himself a seemingly very interesting foreigner who lived years in Korea from the 1960s through at least the 1980s, but about whom I can't find much reliable information online. He put out some books that you can still buy for a hefty $100 [described below] and also helped translate some, in addition to apparently working at Yonsei University for a stint. 

WADE, James. ONE MAN'S KOREA. Illustrated by Sandra Mattielli. Seoul, Korea: Hollym Corporation, [1967]. Wide 8vo., black cloth in dust jacket; 266 pages. First Edition. Wade is a music composer and journalist who first visited Korea in 1954 with the U.S. Army and returned to become a permanent resident in 1960. Nice signed presentation from Wade on the front endpaper: "For Ely Haimowitz- who got here first! Sincerely, James Wade. Seoul, 1968." Haimowitz was a well-known concert pianist who helped organize the first Korean Symphony Orchestra and, after performing around the world, eventually became Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Reno. He died in 2010. 


Such interesting lives. I can understand not much being available about Jang, but I'm a little surprised I get so few results in both English and Korean for a James Wade / 제임스웨이드 (which seems at least in part due to his name being too common). Coming across stuff like this really makes me curious about all the foreigners who lived in Korea during the 야인시대 before blogs, SNS, and K-pop. Seems like generations of the pioneering expats appear only in books, few of which have made it to the web. The largest piece of info I can find on Wade is from his Korean Wikipedia entry at:

 제임스 웨이드 - 위키백과, 우리 모두의 백과사전

However, you can also find excerpts from the book I mentioned (One Man's Korea) over on Matt's excellent Popular Gusts blog here:

Gusts Of Popular Feeling: The language of diplomacy

I wish I had the time (and skill) to meticulously translate this all and research him more myself. But I'm not a professional translator or academic researcher. And the Bad Santa torrent I got last night isn't going to watch itself and those cans of Paulaner aren't going to drink themselves. It is Christmas, after all. But if you're a Korean Studies student looking for a good thesis project, have at it. 

Anyway here's the song.

Lyrics of "Christmas Bells" / <탄일종> 

탄일종이 땡땡땡
Christmas bells, their ding ding ding

은은하게 들린다
Is gently heard.

저 깊고 깊은 산골 오막살이에도
Even at the cottage deep deep in the mountains 

탄일종이 울린다
The Christmas bells resonate. 

탄일종이 땡땡땡
Christmas bells, their ding ding ding

멀리멀리 퍼진다
Is spreading farther and farther. 

저 바닷가에 사는 어부들에게도
Even to the fishermen living by the shore 

탄일종이 울린다
The Christmas bells ring out.

탄일종이 땡땡땡
Christmas bells, their ding ding ding

부드럽게 들린다
Is softly heard.

주 사랑하는 아이 복을 주시려고
To bless the little children who love the Lord 

탄일종이 울린다
The Christmas bells ring out. 

HT: https://nafrang.tistory.com/864 

These lyrics seem to have a certain sad, touching feeling to them, but I should probably warn you that the music it's set to, if you've never heard it before, is probably going to ruin the image you have if you've only read this. It's way more upbeat than you're expecting. It is a kids' song, after all. 

Here's a modern upbeat version:

Here's a slightly more "traditional" one that isn't really all that different.

If you prefer your Christmas songs a little less saccharine sounding, try a nice instrumental version that has a little bit of a nostalgia feeling to it:

Hope you enjoy. 

I sometimes come across songs like this, usually during random conversations with coworkers, and am always surprised that Google doesn't turn up anything for these in English. (Or maybe I'm not searching right.) I always think, surely somebody has put these up with basic English translations, right? 

It's really pretty amazing the absolute volume of content from any language that just never gets known about by anybody outside the language group. And men like Jang and Wade, who knows much about them today? Carpe diem, folks.

Now excuse me while I go crack open that Hefe-weissbier. Merry Christmas!