Monday, December 19, 2011

I heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Origins

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Casting Crowns. Every time I hear the words I am reminded of the fact that this life is full of sorrow whether my own or of those around me. Yet in the midst of all the sorrow, I know that I know that I know God is always with me!

I looked up the origin of the song and it only served to make this song dearer to me. It was penned by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) who experienced his fair share of tragedy. His wife died tragically from fire and his son Charles was crippled from war wounds. Christmas at this time in his life was not a happy occasion. Think about it, his countrymen were fighting amongst themselves, his wife was dead and now his son was severely wounded. Here are some excerpts from his journal around Christmas time:
How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”
"I can make no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace."
Indeed thinking of “peace on earth” while people were fighting everywhere, seemed a little ironic to him. In fact his poem was pretty much against war even though it is very Christmas-y. Three stanzas are omitted from Casting Crowns version, two of which refer to the Civil War.

This song is very raw – it shows honest emotion: pessimism, misery, despair but yet enduring hope! As Dave Boehi at Family Life puts it
We will never see the type of “peace on earth” that so many long for, because the heart of man remains unchanged. But we can experience peace in our hearts when we put our faith and trust in the God who created the universe. I think that’s the kind of peace Longfellow finally experienced.

Here is the song and if you scroll further down, I have included the full poem that Longfellow wrote.

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!

And 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!

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!

Then from each black accursed mouth,
The cannon thundered in the South
And with the sound, the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn the households born
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!"

The 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!"

Merry Christmas! And, may the Prince of Peace grant you His peace!

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