Dec 15, 2008

A Favorite Carol

by Rene Allen

Each year I have a favorite Christmas carol. This year it is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Longfellow wrote it on Christmas day in 1864, during the Civil War. His son, Charlie, had been seriously wounded in a skirmish in Virginia a month earlier. As Longfellow cared for his son, grateful his life had been saved, he also thought about the war. He wrote 7 stanzas. We only sing five.

The puzzler is the next to last verse of the song, when “In despair I bowed my head. / There is no peace on earth I said.” The previous verse is about the earth ringing and singing as it revolves from night to day. To read stanzas 4 and 5 is to understand the why behind the despair.

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.

Hearth-stones, to my mind, connotes a glimpse into the hearts of homes across the country. This year, I wonder about the many rending elements in our society, exemplified most recently by the vitriolic polarization of November’s election. I wonder about fear standing at the doorway of innumerable homes as financial woes engulf thousands who are recently unemployed. Civil War is not alone among those afflictions that like an earthquake rend the hearth-stones of a continent.

This year’s carol is my favorite because of the last verse, the one that declares God is not dead nor doth he sleep. It is because this verse stirs my faith and chases away fear. I can almost hear the rolling peals of thousands of church bells across this same continent and those many souls who, unheralded in their conviction, make the same declaration, that the wrong shall fail, and right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.


  1. There is something almost magical about a Christmas carol. My top favorite has never changed over the years which is bit unusual for me...O Holy Night. Something in it speaks to me as did I Heard the Bells did for you this year. What a lovely tradition.

  2. I've always loved that carol for the same reason!

  3. Loved your post, Rene! Last year, I had our ward choir sing these two "unfamiliar" verses for our Christmas program, while the congregation joined in on the verses from the hymnbook.

    By the way, I was going to use this carol for my ANWA post next week, but you beat me to the punch. Now I'll have to come up with something else! LOL!

  4. This is my favorite hymn as well. Our coir did a beautiful arrangement by Sally Deford last year. I loved it even more after that.

  5. great post, Rene! I can't imagine Christmas without music. I mean, there just is no Christmas without the "Messiah." Literally!

    Every morning in December we have been singing a hymn that expresses a character trait of the Savior. I thought the kids would balk...but we all have experienced joy through the experience.

  6. Christmas carols are my very favorite hymns. My son filled my ipod with at least a dozen hours of Christmas music.

    I've heard it said that no great movement gets going or lasts without at least one good theme song. We sing in most all our meetings. We sing of the restoration, sing for joy, sing of the atoning sacrifice, of love, repentance, and resolution. We sing to relax. We sing to bond.

    Above all, we remember, ". . . the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads."


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