‘Christmas Bells’: A Christmas song of grief

A year on since its initial release, this underrated Christmas number is still relevant. 

Christmas Bells (2021) by James Arthur is a sombre song, recalling days of youth and joy spent with a loved one. It shines a light on the heartbreak and loneliness felt by the loss of those close to us, and how their absence heightens during the holiday season. It is an emotional song that hit listeners close to home amid its release during the pandemic. However, now one year on, the song is still as touching as ever, if not even more so.

“The radio’s playing / that old song by Slade”

Among a sea of All-I-Want-For-Christmas-Is-You’s, Christmas Bells stands as a song that acknowledges the general repetition of Christmas and people’s expectations of the holiday season, whilst remaining true to itself. For instance, with this line, the artist makes Christmas sound weathered and formulaic, before breaking the mold by showcasing it in a different, less typical light.

“When the Christmas bells ring out, they don’t sound / Like they did every year you were here”

By combining the expression of heartbreak and hurt directly with elements of Christmas, such as not hearing bells the same, listeners are entering a sensory experience that extends beyond purely hearing a song. Have you ever stopped to think about what Christmas sounds like, both generally and for specific people? Likely not.

“Close my eyes until December ends”

This song is primarily one of grief, one of being surrounded by seasonal joy but not being able to enjoy it because the true joy in your life has gone. For anyone who has lost someone close to them, whether a friend, family member or other, Christmas Bells will sit with you through your difficult feelings and be there when you’re ready to let them out.

As the months get colder and the cost-of-living crisis continues to cause struggles across the country, this song again remains of timely relevance as many families are sadly broken and left in freezing temperatures. On so many levels, Christmas Bells goes beyond in its ability to make a listener feel understood for not feeling “merry” at this time of year.

A sad, yet necessary song, that addresses topics and emotions that deserve to be addressed in an open way.

If you feel low this Christmas, remember that you aren’t alone, and remember that your feelings are completely valid.


1) Samaritans

2) Red Cross

3) Mind (lists other helplines, too)

Header Image Credit: Freestocks


Ciéra Cree

Ciéra Cree Contributor

Ciéra Cree is a 22-year-old Media/Magazine Journalism student with a passion for creativity. She has undertaken many creative endeavours including becoming a Poet Laureate, being highly commended by The Royal Society of Literature and solo-running a publication (The Ruskin Journal). As someone philosophically minded, Ciéra enjoys the abstract and interpreting deeper meanings from works.

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