Christmas Bells and Music – Peace in a Chaotic World

I love Christmas music – the sweet sounds of church hymns in December; the fun, merry carols heard everywhere after Thanksgiving (and sometimes even Halloween); and the modern, jazzy arrangements performed by bands and choirs ranging from elementary schoolers to professionals. I even felt a little “rebellious” a couple weeks back and created a playlist of Christmas Rock. Who knew Twisted Sister had a Christmas album?

One of my favorite Christmas hymns, in terms of the message presented, is an adaptation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, Christmas Bells.

During 1863, Longfellow must have felt he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Just two years earlier, his wife burned to death when her dress caught fire, leaving him a widower to raise their six children on his own. (In addition, while trying to save his wife, Longfellow also suffered burns to his hands and face, leaving him so scarred he grew the trademark beard he never shaved.)

All this as civil war raged, threatening to destroy the country Longfellow so loved.

On December 1, 1863, he learned that his eldest son, Charles, who had enlisted to fight for the Union, had been shot and seriously injured on the battlefield, requiring father to leave his family and trek to Washington, DC to find and bring son home.

One can only imagine how Longfellow must have felt that Christmas season in 1863. Perhaps happy Christmas greetings were replaced by the bah humbugs of his contemporary, Charles Dickens.

Awaking on Christmas morning, 1863, Longfellow felt especially sorrowful and weighed down by the world around him. Rather than close himself off to the world, he opened his ears and listened to the nearby church bells and was inspired to pen his immortal poem – Christmas Bells, which was later put to music as I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Read the entire poem here, or below.

As chaos reigns throughout the world today, perhaps this penultimate stanza rings especially true and relevant in our lives today:

Do these words hit close to home? As wars rage around the world; as our political leaders treat each other with as much hatred and disdain as ever; as we are pummeled constantly with negative news, scary headlines and divisive commentary; or as we suffer through our own personal trials, it often truly seems as though there is no peace on earth, that hate is strong, mocking the song of the peace we all long for.

What was it, though, that helped Longfellow pen the final stanza, proclaiming that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men?

In his own words, “I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play.”

Perhaps Christmas bells are not as prevalent as they once were, but Christmas songs abound!

Perhaps for the rest of December, we turn down the sounds of the world and turn up the sounds of Christmas. Perhaps we turn off the television and turn on the tunes. Perhaps we turn away from the chaos of the world and turn toward the peace offered through Christmas, begun by the birth of the Babe of Bethlehem.

Then, perhaps we will remember that God will prevail and that He sent His son, Jesus Christ, born so humbly and peacefully in a stable, to offer peace on earth, goodwill to all.

During the week leading up to Easter, much of the Christian world celebrates Holy Week, pondering and remembering the days leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Sadly, the week leading up to Christmas often is spent buying and wrapping presents, making cookies, stressing over creating the “perfect” Christmas for our children and thinking about anything but the true meaning of the day celebrated on December 25.

Perhaps for the coming week, if we slow down to ponder the true meaning of Christmas and listen to both the music and the meaning of the Christmas songs we hear, we will feel a little bit of the peace Longfellow sought for and found that Christmas morning so long ago.

Let’s together listen, truly listen, to the songs of Christmas and see how they change our view of the world around us, and then work to retain that feeling as we enter the new year. Even Santa-themed songs which lighten and brighten the hopes of children everywhere, can work to remind us of the season of peace and giving.

I will start the show by playing, recording and sharing a few different Christmas songs over the coming week, to help bring a little Christmas light to each of you. I hope to share my feelings about Christmas through the music I share.

May you feel the true spirit of Christmas, and of Christ, and may you and those around you feel Peace on Earth, Good-will toward all men and women, even as chaos reigns around us.

Christmas Bells

Christmas Bells, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, December 25, 1863

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