Here’s the second in the repeat of my Sunday series during the month of December on the fascinating abolitionist history behind some of our most beloved Christmas hymns. Pro-lifers identify closely with those 150 years ago who fought to free another oppressed class of people. Last week I posted about “O Holy Night,” and included the most memorable rendition of this classic I’ve ever viewed. This week…

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

In December 1863 poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was still grieving the death by fire of his wife Francis 2 years before when receiving word their oldest son Charles had been seriously injured as a Union soldier in the Civil War.

A fierce abolitionist, Longfellow awakened in despair that Christmas morning, unsure of both the fate of his son and his country. It was against this backdrop Longfellow wrote the melancholy poem “Christmas Bells” when hearing church bells peel throughout Boston proclaiming the birth of Christ. Two of the middle verses were later dropped to adapt the poem into a Christmas carol, which composer John Caulkin set to music. Those 2 verses give the current verse 3 (the last verse below) much more context:

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!”

Read more on the history of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” here and here.

I’ve also posted two memorable but very different renditions of this classic.

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