There’s something especially special about Christmas music. It always seems to bring feelings of happiness and contentment. But not all Christmas songs were written with the joy that most people feel this time of year.
In fact, for some, Christmas is much harder than other times of the year. For those who have lost family members especially, it can be painful to deal with going through the season without their loved one.
That was exactly what Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was going through in 1864. He is one of the most well-known American poets. He wrote the poem “Christmas Bells,” which was adapted into the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
During the Christmas season of 1861, Longfellow was dealing with several different tragedies from that year. In April, the Civil War began, tearing the country in two. In July of the same year, his wife died.
Longfellow’s wife, Fanny, had just cut some of their 7-year-old’s hair. She decided to preserve some of the locks of hair in wax. As she was melting the bar of wax, some drops fell onto her dress. A gust of wind ignited the wax.
Within seconds, her entire dress had caught fire. Longfellow tried to save her, but was unable to. He was badly burned in the process.
That December, Longfellow was dealing with the difficulty of facing his first Christmas without his wife. He was also facing a Christmas where his nation was torn in two. He wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.” The next Christmas, in 1862, he wrote: “‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”
The next year, Longfellow’s son was severely wounded in the Civil War. He did not write anything in his journal about Christmas that year, 1863.
On December 25 of 1864, Longfellow wrote the poem “Christmas Bells.” In the song, you can hear the sadness and isolation that he was dealing with: “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!’”
In the final verse of the poem, though, you can see the hope shining through. “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!’”
For Longfellow, Christmas was surrounded with reminders of everything that he had lost. He had given up hope of ever having a “merry Christmas” again. Eventually, though, he recognized that, although he had gone through so many tragedies, “God is not dead, nor does he sleep.”
Listen to Longfellow’s poem adapted into the Christmas carol we all know below.
As you celebrate this Christmas, remember pain and sorrow that can come along with the season for many people. Sometimes they just need someone to be able to listen to what they’re dealing with.
Remember that thanksgiving doesn’t end with the holidays. It’s important to remember to give thanks year-round. Check out these incredible verses to help your family cultivate a spirit of thanksgiving this holiday season.