A Christmas Carol for the Heart

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christmas carol lynn mosher

Lynn Mosher shares today’s post on joy, suffering, and a Christmas carol. A heart-encourager, Lynn faced physical upheaval in 2000, and the Lord whispered His desire for Lynn take up her pen and write for Him. You can see her original post here.


Don’t you love Christmas carols? Yeah, me, too! And one of my favorite’s is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. Even more so because I know the story behind the song. Beauty out of tragedy!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was at his peak as a poet. The Civil War has just begun, and his oldest son, Charles, at the age of 17, ran off to join the Union Army, against Longfellow’s wishes.

On July 10, 1861, Longfellow’s wife Fanny wrote in her journal about her daughters, “We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.”

The next day, Fanny cut some of Edith’s long curls and decided to save them in an envelope. She melted some sealing wax to seal the envelope, but a few drops of the wax fell on her dress, unnoticed. A breeze through the window caught the flame and engulfed her dress.

A Fire and a Funeral

To protect her daughters, she quickly ran to Longfellow in his study for assistance. He tried frantically to extinguish the flames with a small rug, which proved insufficient, so he threw his arms around her to smother the flames. In the process, he received serious burns to his face, arms, and hands. Unfortunately, he was not able to help her enough, for Fanny died the next morning. Longfellow was so badly burned that he was unable to attend Fanny’s funeral.

In his diary for Christmas Day, 1861, Longfellow wrote, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

In all the pictures of him after this, he has a full beard as he was no longer able to shave due to the burns and scarring.

Civil War, Bullets, and Renewed Hope

Almost a year after Fanny’s death, Longfellow received word that Charles had been shot under his shoulder blade and the bullet ricocheted and hit his spine. He sustained injuries, which seriously disabled him. It was reported that he missed being paralyzed by less than one inch. (Some accounts say Charles was killed but others say this is not true.)

That Christmas, his journal was empty.

But the next year, for whatever reason, Longfellow had found renewed hope, which stirred his soul enough to pen a poem. And on December 25, 1864, he wrote I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, which originally contained seven stanzas. However, two stanzas were removed because they referenced the Civil War. In 1872, John Baptiste Calkin composed the tune, rearranging the remaining five stanzas.

And today, we have his beautiful words preserved… {Please read all the stanzas, especially the last two.–LAM}

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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.

If you are suffering some tragedy this Christmas season, I pray you will hear the bells. And may peace and goodwill prevail around you this season. Merry Christmas! 


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