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Christmas Bells | Mary Biever | One Writing Mother

Christmas Bells

This is a story of hope emerging from the worst of tragic losses, which in this case became the back story to the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells.” After you’ve read to the end of this blog, this Christmas carol’s meaning will never again be the same for you – it’s a message of renewal.

Christmas is hard when we have lost those we love.

During the Civil War, a husband struggled with the loss of his wife.  His first wife died when he was young, and he mourned seven years.

Then he married again.  They were a happy family, rejoicing in their five children.  His youngest three daughters filled their home with laughter: grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, and Edith with golden hair.

One hot spring day, while her husband slept in the next room, his wife trimmed Edith’s hair.  The golden curls were so pretty she decided to save one lock as a keepsake.  She used sealing wax to hold the lock of hair into place when tragedy struck.

A spring wind breezed through the room. Her dress burst into flames.  Either the sealing wax spilled onto her dress or the match did.  Her first instinct was to protect her daughters.  So she ran screaming, a tower of flames, into her husband’s study next door.  He awakened and tried to save her.

First, he covered her with a rug to smother the flames.  The rug was too small.  Still, she burned.  He threw his arms around her and put out the final flames with his own body.

She died of burns the next morning.  He was so badly injured that he could not attend her funeral.  His face was so burned that he was never able to shave again and wore a beard the rest of his life.

Her horrific death happened near the beginning of the Civil War. Then his firstborn son, 19, returned from the war, critically injured.  Christmas was the hardest.  He could not celebrate.  The man asked his friends, “Where is peace?”

God gave him solace to his grief on Christmas Day, 1863, as the morning church bells rang.

The mourning husband, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, wrote a poem that would become the carol, “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!”

 I hope you hear the bells this Christmas Day! 


One Response to “Christmas Bells”

  1. Dave Huffman December 22, 2010 at 8:36 am #

    Wow! I didn’t know that! Just continues to prove to me that if we’re willing to see it, there is normally so much beauty born from tragedy.

    Thanks for sharing that story :)

    Dave

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