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What Does The Phrase “With Bells On” Mean?

Source: Jack Berry via flickr

‘Tis the season and chances are you’ve heard the phrase “with bells on” at least once this holiday season.  Countless Christmas carols and greeting cards use the expression – but what does it really mean?

The phrase “with bells on” has it’s direct origins from three separate meanings from what I can gather in my research.  One of the earliest documentations of the term comes from Europe – especially in France, where it was customary to “ring the bells” upon completion of a new cathedral.  Those bell celebrations helped to give birth to our modern usage.

In addition, Appalachian peddlers used to travel the countryside silently to avoid foes.  When arriving in the town of their destination, they would unfurl necklaces and clothing that they had rigged with bells to announce themselves audibly to the townfolk – who would in turn come out and potentially buy their wares.

One additional orgin of the phrase also comes from the horse and buggy/sled days our our country – prior to  the automobile.  Often, these sleds would be outfitted with bells that would often fore-tell the arrival of a guest.

Blend these three seemingly separate origins together and you get the phrase that in modern times has come to mean that someone will be at a destination eagerly or with enthusiasm;  It can also mean to arrive promptly.

[Research for this post was gathered from various sources – including and]



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