I’m not really a religious guy at all. But I like Christmas a lot, especially with the family. And there are some Christmas songs that I really, really love. “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is one of them. I love the optimism and the imagery, even though I don’t really wonder much about whether God is dead or not.
After hearing it last night (and this neat cover by Echosmith), I was curious, so looked up the origin, and learned it was based on a poem written by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1863, in the dark days of the American Civil War, and the poem had some lines that aren’t in the song: “The cannon thundered in the South And with the sound the carols drowned Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
I had no idea. But I love how the song starts from despair, turns to hopefulness for peace.
For me, it’s not about God, but about humanity, and as MLK Jr might say, the long arc of the moral universe, bending towards justice.
Happy 2015 to everyone.
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 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.”