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Home » Archives » News Archives » 2006 » I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

There is an inspiring story behind the words to "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" penned by one of America's favorite poets, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow achieved early success as a professor of English, but life became difficult when he lost his first wife in a house fire, and some years later a second wife, with whom he had 5 children. His faith was tested almost to the breaking point when his beloved country fell into the Civil War.

Longfellow plead with God to end the madness of this war. His oldest son was wounded in battle and returned home unable to walk. During the Civil War, churches would ring their bells on Christmas day to call for ceasefire. For the day, there was peace. Then as the day ended and a new day began, gunfire would erupt, and shouts and screams of the wounded would once again conquer the reality.

Longfellow cried out in despair, "Where is the peace?"

This is the same question people of faith are asking right now as we see the realities of the world in 2006. Regardless of our views on the ongoing conflicts, we are crying out to God, "Where is the peace?"

It was on Christmas Day, 1863, that Longfellow finally came to grips with what was happening and in spite of everything that happens on earth, there was a God who reigns above all. The wrong is destined to fail and the right will prevail.

This Christmas, take a few minutes to reread Longfellow's poem, "Christmas Bells." We have included all verses, including two about the Civil War.


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.

I 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.'

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.'

Photos by Michael Peabody at Gettysburg, April 2005.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Luke 2:14