Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Isn't it funny how knowing the story behind a song (or book or movie) can endear that song to you in such an overwhelming way?

I've always been drawn to the Christmas song "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day'. A few years ago, my husband and I attended an awe-inspiring Christmas concert with Steven Curtis Chapman and Mercy Me. During the concert, as the melody and a deep base beat played ever-so-softly in the background, they shared with the audience a glimpse of the events that had inspired the lyrics to this song, written by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow so very long ago on Christmas Day in 1964.

After the concert, I investigated further, seeking more detail to the story. I learned that, in a very short time span, Longfellow had lost his wife to a tragic accident in their home, and his son had returned - critically injured - from the American Civil War that was devastating his beloved country. I can only imagine that his faith was being tested beyond measure and his hope for peace - in his country and his own life - was weak.

Something changed on Christmas Day 1964 when Longfellow penned the poem, originally titled "Christmas Bells". Maybe it was the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and, with that, the possible end of the terrible war; maybe it was the relief that came from his son surviving; or maybe it was the churches that - during the war - would ring their bells on Christmas as a call for ceasefire, bringing peace to the nation, if only for a day.

Knowing the history behind the words has made this song become even more beautiful, sorrowful, haunting, and hopeful. In many ways, it is a call for peace. Something we all hope for.

If you haven't already heard them, here are a few of my favorite arrangements of the song:

Mercy Me, from 'The Christmas Sessions' (my absolute favorite arrangement ... unfortunately this upload skips a bit, but it's still hauntingly beautiful!): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzJ9wieZH0M

Casting Crowns, from 'Peace on Earth': http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bK8xB1opuQ8

Steven Curtis Chapman, from 'All I Really Want for Christmas' (btw ... the title song, which is about adoption, will bring tears to your eyes): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JH5dPy0gwD0

Hope your Christmas was a blessed one! And, Happy New Year!

15 comments:

Susan R. Mills said...

The meaning behind lyrics always makes a song more endearing to me. Thanks for sharing this about "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". I didn't know that.

Lisa and Laura said...

What a beautiful song! Thanks for sharing Kelly! Hope you've been enjoying the holidays!

The Things We Carried said...

I love the song!

Solvang Sherrie said...

How beautiful! I'll think of this every time I hear it now. BTW, jealous of the concert -- must have been awesome!! The first concert my kids ever went to was Steven Curtis Chapman :)

MG Higgins said...

What a wonderful story behind a beautiful song. Thanks for sharing.

Barrie said...

I had no idea there was this rich a story behind the Christmas song. Thank you for sharing. Happy 2010!

C.R. Evers said...

Wow! That's amazing. The story behind the story has always captured me as well. After we lost our son the story behind the Hymn "It is Well with my soul" meant more to me after I learned that the author lost his entire family when their ship sunk in the sea. I can't hear it w/o tears coming to my eyes.

Great post!

Beth Kephart said...

what a time Longfellow was facing, then, and how stunning it is that those days yielded this gift of a song. thank you for the story.

Kelly H-Y said...

Thank you all for your lovely comments!
Christy ... my heart aches for you ... I didn't know you'd lost a son.

Katie said...

HAPPY NEW YEAR KELLY!!!!! I hope 2010 is wonderful for you!

Nora MacFarlane said...

I have always loved the song. Thanks for sharing the story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you!

Sharon Mayhew said...

Lovely post! Have a wonderful 2010!

Danyelle said...

This is one of my favorite songs!

I hope your Christmas was wonderful and filled with joy. :D

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Kelly, it's so true that understanding what inspired the songs and even stories bring them a whole new deeper meaning.
I pray you had a wonderful time celebrating Jesus's birth!

kanishk said...

What a wonderful story behind a beautiful song. Thanks for sharing.
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