“I HEARD THE BELLS ON CHRISTMAS DAY”

Story Behind the Song: ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’
Tragedy struck in the Longfellow home on July 9, 1861. His wife, Fanny, was near an open window placing locks of her daughter’s hair in a packet, using hot sealing wax to secure it. It was never known whether a spark from a match or the sealing wax was the cause, but suddenly her dress caught fire and she was engulfed in flames.
Longfellow, sleeping in the next room, was awakened by her screams and dashed in to rescue her. He was severely burned on his face and hands as he tried desperately to extinguish the flames and save his wife. She died in the fire and his burns were so severe he could not attend her funeral.  He seemed to lock the anguish within his soul. His family could see his suffering in his eyes, and they observed his long periods of silence. The burn scars on his face made shaving almost impossible, thus, the white beard.

Although a literary giant, Longfellow still needed the peace that only God can give to his children. On Christmas day in 1863, he sat down and desperately tried to reflect on the joys of the season. He was never considered a hymn writer, however, the poem he wrote on that day was later set to music by Englishman John Calkin. The result is one of our most popular Christmas carols.
“I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

As he came to the third stanza he was stopped by the thought of the condition of his beloved country. The Civil War was in full swing. The battle of Gettysburg was not more than six months past. Days looked dark. He must have asked himself, “How can the last phrase of those stanzas be true in this war-torn country, where brother fights against brother and father against son?” However, he continued:
“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, goodwill to men!”

Actually, he could have also been writing for the present day. Then, as each of us should do, he turned his thoughts to the one who solves all problems. From his pen flowed…..
“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, goodwill to men.”

Millions of children and adults, the world over, love this carol. Peace and goodwill shall one day come to us when the Prince of Peace shall reign.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” – Luke 2:14

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