I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day: A Song That Inspires Peace

"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!"

These are the first words of the classic Christmas carol "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". The song was originally a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on Christmas day, December 25, 1864. It was later turned into a beautiful hymn that expresses how no matter how bad things become, there is always Christmas.

American Civil was still raging during the time Longfellow wrote his poem. Things were uncertain in the land and loved ones were dying left and right. In a stanza that was removed for the carol, Longfellow wrote, "Then from each black accursed mouth, the cannon thundered in the South." He went on to describe how that affected the country by saying, "It was as if an earthquake rent, the hearth-stones of a continent, and made forlorn, the household born, of peace on earth, good will to men."

We as a country, as an entire world, have been touched by war in some way. It rages on seemingly without end, and as the holiday nears, it is harder to have loved ones so far away, always fearing for their safety. Our households are made forlorn when Christmas is supposed to be a time for joy.

Life was not easy for Longfellow during this time. Not only did he have to deal with his country being war-torn, but his son Charles was in the middle of it. Charles would return home, only after being severely wounded. On top of that, Longfellow's beloved wife, Fanny, was burned in a fire and died from it. In an attempt to save his wife and children, Longfellow tried to put out the fire. He ended up with burns on his face, arms and hands. These burns would prevent him from shaving, and is the reason he always had a beard. These moments would affect him the rest of his life.

"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.'"

We all feel this way at some point in our lives. It seems to be the way the world feels right now. Hate seems to conquer all and makes the idea of peace impossible to believe. So much pain and suffering surrounds us, and it seems that fighting and war is all that anyone knows. War makes people angry, and that anger makes them do things they would not normally do. Look at the school shootings, the snipers, the horrible images we see on TV screens every day. It makes it hard to watch the news, because there is never anything but hate, pain, and suffering. Hate breeds hate, and it makes it hard to believe in anything else.

However, it is Christmas, and even Longfellow knew how powerful one day can be:

"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!'"

No matter where you are, or what you believe, Christmas day has become a time for joy. Loved ones are kept close, those we lost are remembered, and everyone smiles at least once. It does not matter how the war rages, or how many people give in to their anger and hate, Christmas always arrives. With it comes love, a time of thanksgiving, of being kind to strangers and even kinder to those close to you.

But, most of all, as Longfellow believed all those years ago, Christmas brings one important thing: hope.

"Peace on earth, good will to men."





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