I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

Many of the most powerful songs are autobiographical — where the song writer sings about tragedy and despair he personally experienced and had to recover from. “It Is Well With My Soul” is one such song you might know. “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” is another. Please give it a sing-along listen and come back for the story.


The lyrics to our song were taken from a poem called “Christmas Bells”, written on Christmas Day,1863, by the famous nineteenth century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Wikipedia reports: “In 1861, two years before writing this poem, Longfellow’s personal peace was shaken when his second wife of 18 years, to whom he was very devoted, was fatally burned in an accidental fire. Then in 1863, during the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son, Charles Appleton Longfellow, joined the Union Army without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter dated March 14, 1863, after Charles had left. “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer”, he wrote. “I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.” Charles was soon appointed as a lieutenant but, in November, he was severely wounded in the Battle of Mine Run. Charles eventually recovered, but his time as a soldier was finished.” [ From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Heard_the_Bells_on_Christmas_Day ]

This song is not about what happened to the poet’s wife and son. Rather, it tells the story of Longfellow’s process of recovery. He was hearing from every church tower the glad bells on Christmas day. It was as if all those bells assumed everyone in the whole wide world over was rejoicing in harmony and one accord with chapter two of Luke’s gospel where it says, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Longfellow was not feeling it. Not feeling it at all.

In his poem he cries what he did feel:

” . . . 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.”


What enabled him to turn the corner from grief toward peace?

Being a poet, he gave the bells the credit for ringing louder — for being more insistent that God is neither dead nor asleep, and right and goodness will prevail over wrong and hate.

Of course the bells did not actually ring louder. What happened was he shifted his focus — from the sadness to the Savior. He changed his thinking from man’s world to the Lord’s.

Getting genuine help

People deal with pain different ways. Drugs and alcohol might dull the pain, but they rob users of life. Draw closer and these things kill.

Medicines can reduce pain, and thank God for many of them. But some medicines become less effective with use. Either the dose needs to be increased, or a different drug replaces the first one. These, too, often bring problems along with any benefits. Draw closer to these and prospects for health and life often get worse.

There is one source of help that promises to work better and better as we draw closer. That source is the Lord. The more we depend on the Lord, the more powerful His help become in our lives. The Lord makes our lives ever better. His desire for people is prosperity and health. He provides a path to get to these.

We know Scripture gives us hope for a better life when the Lord returns. But is there any hope for the kind of hate and hurt Longfellow observed coming out of the American Civil War — and we still see today — improving in these times before the Lord returns?

Yes, there is hope. The promises in the written word say people can change. Redemption, revival and reformation are still alive, well and available for individuals. The hate and hurt in the world recede a little each time a person suits up and joins God’s family and gets in on the household’s work. When people walk by the spirit, amazing things can move. These are reasons for — and means toward — improved peace on earth and good will toward men.

One other thing, too. Reports are increasing that more and more people close to home and all over the world are lighting up for the Lord. This is a remarkable day and time when lots and lots of people are joining in on the prayer and believing. The Lord hears, the Lord sees — and the Lord still keeps His promises to deliver. Things are most certainly moving. I believe we should prepare to be amazed.

Let not your heart be troubled. Be of good cheer. The best help is present, powerful, loving and closer than our very breath. Let’s lift up our voices and continue to praise the Lord and declare His goodness all the other days of the year the same way we do when we hear the bells on Christmas Day.

God bless you lots!
Dale R.

Download this song sheet from “The Music Box”

LYRICS – I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
Text: Henry W. Longfellow (1863)
Tune: John Baptiste Calkin (1872)

1 I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace of earth, good will to men.

2 I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along th’unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

3 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.”

4 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.”

5 Then, 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.

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4 Replies to “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”

  1. Julia Witchard

    Good early morning Mr Dale… “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE NAME OF OUR LORD GOD ALMIGHTY…”.. Sometimes Mr Dale, us humans get carried away, thinking we can do things on our own without asking “APPROVAL FROM OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, isn’t that is why HE SENT OUR FATHER HOLY SPIRIT TO COUNSEL US…..And.Yes Mr Dale, We Are to give OUR HEAVENLY FATHER JESUS, GLORY, HONOR AND PRAISE, ISN’T THAT WHAT HE SAID TO US, MY PEACE I GIVE U AND LEAVE WITH U …I truly indeed love the verse when u said , the bells didn’t ring louder, but he shifted his focus on the HEAVENLY FATHER, OUR LORD AND SAVIOR ..Now that’s an amazing verse…Mr dale, another verse there is only one source of help, ..u said it Mr Dale, OUR HELP COMES FROM OUR SAVIOR..THROUGH OUR FATHER HOLY SPIRIT, THE ONLY TRUE SOURCE OF HELP,, What an amazing song and sermon Mr dale, that u shared with us for the up coming Xmas celebration…”LIFE”… that’s what it’s all about…sharing the.. GOOD NEWS, And Mr dale, u are setting a good example… much love 💘… and 🙏 blessings goes out to u and Cathy…

    1. Dale Reichel Post author

      Thanks, Julia. Regarding shifting the focus of our minds … a case can be made that doctrinally, the first thing God asks of a new Christian is to change his mind. Romans 12 calls it “the renewing of the mind”. We read Romans chapters 1 through 11, and then get to chapter 12 and the Lord says, “Did you hear what I just explained in the first 11 chapters of the Church Epistles? Okay, I beg you, start thinking that way!” Very powerful to set our affection on things above — to hear God’s truth and act on it. Thanks for your note! God bless you lots … Dale R.

  2. Paul Richardson Sr.

    1–der–full. Love the history of how it all comes together. We are Blessed greatly with many promises. Thanks Dale. Happy Kool Holidays.

    1. Dale Reichel Post author

      Paul, U r 2 kind. Thanks for your note. Wishing you happy, cool (and warm, too) days weeks and years. God bless you lots, -Dale R.


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