This is one of the Christmas classics that isn’t heard very often today. It was written in 1863 by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who you might remember from American Lit (or if you’re like most of us, you might not).
“I Heard the Bells” is a good song for 2020 because it begins with a lament for how far man has strayed from God’s plan and the pain and depression that this has caused. Longfellow lost his wife in 1861 and his son, a Union soldier, was badly wounded in 1862. Longfellow wrote the lyrics as a poem on Christmas Day 1863 as he pondered his loss:
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!"
But then Longfellow reminds us that it isn’t over.
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
In 2020, many feel that despair and need the message of hope.
For the video, I’ve selected a traditional version by Burl Ives, who also popularized “Holly Jolly Christmas.” Americans of my generation will know Ives best as the snowman narrator on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Christmas special from 1964. Mercy Me and Casting Crowns have recorded contemporary versions if that’s your preference.