Saturday, December 24, 2022

I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day

Merry Christmas from a very cold Pennsylvania Christmas Eve. 

Hands down, my favorite part of Christmas is the music. I start listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving Day, and our family has memories surrounding numerous Christmas songs. 

Earlier this week our church went caroling. We divided into five groups. My group walked the street singing to some of my brother's neighbors. It was a cold clear evening (thankfully not nearly as cold as this morning) and perfect caroling weather. Several people said they hadn't heard carolers for twenty or more years. Some joined us in singing. Some videoed us on their phones and sent it to friends. One man asked if we'd come down to the park because he wanted the children to hear us sing. The evening reminded me why caroling is my favorite Christmas tradition.

I remember the first time I read through the words of all the verses to the song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." I was a young teen, and the message moved me to tears. 

At that time I didn't know the story behind the words. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a widower, His wife had died from injuries from a house fire two years before. His son had left to fight in the Civil War against his father's wishes and was seriously injured. When I think of a grieving husband and father, facing a Christmas season during a turbulent time in the nation's history, these words feel even more poignant. 

Here are the words to Longfellow's poem that are usually sung, omitting two of stanzas that refer more specifically to the Civil War.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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
Th' 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.

This song reminds me that Jesus came to a groaning earth, not a perfect paradise. He came to hurting grieving people, not those who are merry and bright. He came to restore our peace with God and give us love for our fellow humans - all things we need just as much today.

In recent years, Casting Crowns has recorded a beautiful new tune that has become popular, but here is a recording with the traditional Calkin tune.


  1. It’s good to blog post. I have enjoyed your posts. Merry Christmas.

  2. I appreciate this post. I too was unaware of this song in my childhood. As an adult, I got familiar w the words and i was struck w the depth of them.

  3. One of my favorites for the same reason. You've been on my mind alot this week. May God give you peace and many blessings tomorrow and always.

  4. I wish your family a blessed Christmas. Your blog has certainly been a blessing to me!

  5. Hi Gina,
    For some reason I am not receiving your blog posts, nor am I able to subscribe.
    I love the reading challenge ideas!

    1. Natalie, I'm sorry you aren't getting the blog posts by email. You can email me and I'll try to fix it for you.

  6. Your family is beautiful. May God be very near to you in this new year.

  7. Gina, If you have the opportunity, go see "I Heard the Bells." It's the first film that Sight & Sound has produced. They did a wonderful job of presenting a moving story of Longfellow's life. I highly recommend it! And bring your tissues! Julie Druck


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