Theology

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Author Amy K. Hall Published on 12/24/2014

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is the Christmas song I love the most, and I can never listen to it without tears. I wish it were better known. Justin Taylor explains its origins:

The lyrics originate from the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written on Christmas day in 1863. But the original was not a feel-good song but one born in grief. Longfellow’s wife had died in a fire in 1860. And on December 1, 1863, the widower received the news that his eldest son, 19-year-old Charley, had been nearly paralyzed by a gunshot wound fighting for the Union in the Civil War. It was with that background that he penned this poem about the dissonance between the Christmas bells, the singing of “peace on earth,” and the world around him of injustice and violence—ending with the hope for eschatological peace.

Here’s part of Longfellow’s poem “Christmas Bells”:

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 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.”

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection prove this. Have hope in your pain, and have a joyful Christmas tomorrow.