I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Today, as I sit having a moment to myself, I am overcome with the amount of tragedy our little community has experienced in the past few months. Difficult pregnancies and births, sick children, death—the list goes on and on. If you broaden the scope a little wider to our neighboring communities, there is even more heartbreak. I’m sure all of my readers can relate. Tragedy is everywhere.

At this Christmas season, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the grief and difficulties of this world, but as I sit enjoying my tea, fire, and devotional—the light sound of Christmas music reminds me of my favorite carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. This was originally a poem written my Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and was later put to music. Written just a few months prior to Lee surrendering to Grant, it was heavily influenced by the sufferings during the Civil War. Even more so, the poem flowed from the suffering of Longfellow himself.

Longfellow and his wife (Franny) had six children—the youngest died as an infant. One day after giving their third child and first curly headed little girl a hair cut, Franny decided to preserve the clippings in sealing wax. While melting the wax with the candle, a few drops fell on her dress (unbeknownst to her). Within seconds, her dress was blazing. She ran into Longfellow’s study and he began getting the fire out—severely burning himself in the process. Franny died the following morning. Longfellow was so overcome with grief and such serious injuries himself—he couldn’t even attend her funeral. The burns scarred his face so badly that he was no longer able to shave and thus began the growth of his famous beard.

After the death of his wife, Longfellow’s oldest son Charley ran away to join the war. After signing up, Charley realized he needed his father’s permission to which Longfellow reluctantly gave. Weeks passed and Longfellow got word that his oldest son was terribly wounded in battle. Unsure if Charley would survive, still grief stricken over the loss of Franny, and overcome with the suffering the Civil War had brought—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down on Christmas Day in 1863 and pinned what we know today as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. While listening to the church bells from a nearby service, Longfellow prayed to see God among the dissonance and despair—much like us. I believe you see his prayers answered and Longfellow renewed with hope in the last two stanzas. Read Longfellow’s journey from deep despair to a personal peace and hope that only faith in God can give.

For those of us that are in God and God in us—we have the hope that only comes with salvation—the hope of eternity with Christ in heaven. It is my prayer that our pain is met head-on with the Hope that is Jesus Christ.

I heard the bells on Christmas day
their old familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet the words repeat
of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how as the day had come,
the belfries of all Christendom
had rolled along the unbroken song
of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,”
I said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
the wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
the world revolved from night to day
a voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
of peace on earth, good will to men.

5 thoughts on “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

  1. I recently sat with my group of Bible study ladies and we voiced our favorite Christmas songs and why they were special to each of us. Thank you for reminding us of this one and helping me to remember how blessed we are today!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The encouragement found in “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep: the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.” is what resognates with me. Thanks for sharing this, I love you.

    Liked by 1 person

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