December 20, 2015

Ring Those Christmas Bells - by Joylene M. Bailey

I love Christmas carols. I love how, for about 6 weeks of the year, believers and non-believers alike are singing praises and glo-o-o-o-o-oooo-o-o-o-o-oooo-o-o-o-o-ooorias.

Secular radio stations are dashing through the snow to deck the halls, asking Santa Baby for yachts and diamond rings, and wondering how on earth Grandma could get run over by a reindeer. 

But they are also proclaiming Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing, ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth! And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.

Even Charlie Brown sings “Glory to the newborn King”!

What kind of weird and wonderful world IS this?? That Christ’s name should be heard and sung by people who haven’t yet grasped the miraculous idea of God’s precious life-giving, soul-saving gift.

It makes me wonder as I wander, and giggle like a babe in Toyland.

Yet some could say that it isn’t the most wonderful time of the year, 2015. It’s not a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts. They would agree with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words, “There is no peace on earth, I said”.

 When Longfellow penned the words to his poem “Christmas Bells” on December 25, 1864, he was still grieving the death of his wife, Fanny. She had been fatally burned in an accident 3 years before, on the very same day that the first shot of the American Civil War was fired. In 1862 his journal entry for Christmas Day reads, “ ‘A merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

In 1863 he learned that his oldest son, Charles, had been severely wounded in battle.

So in 1864, Longfellow’s world was not at peace either, and hadn’t been for years. What’s more, he had been personally affected by the war.  

He wrote seven stanzas to his poem that Christmas Day in 1864. Two of them are never sung in our version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” but I think they are important to include because they give us a good idea of Longfellow’s world, which strikingly parallels our own. They help us to understand why he said, “there is no peace on earth”, and to remind us that “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep”.

In our writers group this month we were challenged to write a new verse to a favourite Christmas carol. 
(I encourage my fellow Inscribers to try this fun exercise.)

The words “there is no peace on earth, I said” resonated so much with me that I did some research on the song and then added my own verse at the end – my proclamation in response to the stanzas before it.

Christmas Bells
(Longfellow’s original poem, complete with all seven stanzas, and an extra one added at the end by Joylene M. Bailey)

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!"

Now let me gather up my faith.
My God’s at work; His love is great.
Loud let bells ring,
And I will sing,
Of Peace on earth, good-will to men!

God is not dead, nor doth He sleep. He’s still at work. He’s still Love. He’s still in charge.

So rest ye merry, Inscribers, let nothing you dismay. Remember, Christ, our Saviour, was born upon this day: to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray.

O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Victorian Carolers
photo credit: <a href="">Holland Christmas Open House</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>

Charlie brown

photo credit: <a href="">Henry Wadsworth Longfellow</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>



  1. Joy, your use of phrases from familiar carols to draw the reader along is a brilliant literary tool. It made me, as a reader, feel on par with you, the writer, and pulled me along to discover your message. Very well crafted. As for the content, I was close to tears by the time you got to 'So rest ye, merry Inscribers!' This was a very special post. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for your encouragement, Bobbi.

  2. 'I Heard the Bells' is one of my favourite carols, perhaps because I am a Longfellow fan in general. Last night at our music practice, (I lead worship at our church) we were singing this song and two of the singers said they had never heard this song before! I was amazed. Anyway, I LOVE the line "God is not dead nor does he sleep". I, too, am thankful that this time of year people are receptive to the gospel and without n=knowing it they are proclaiming the good news about jesus.

    1. Yes, that line is so very powerful. There is something so reassuring in knowing that God does not sleep and is always aware even when I am unaware. :)

  3. I have always enjoyed this song but I have never heard all of the stanza's as you said. I love how he is so real about the times he lives in yet in the end proclaims that God is not dead and right will prevail. You are right that it is a fitting time for now. And I agree with Bobbi that you put it together magically. I loved it. It's funny to me that you started out with the song Angels We Have Heard on High (my least favorite) as every year as a child I absolutely cringed when it was sung...especially at school!! As an adult I have gotten more used to it...but still..I cringe if it is sung out of tune. I do love all other Christmas Carols though...especially Joy To The World ;)

    1. It's funny that your least favourite is Angels We Have Heard on High. That one has always been my favourite! Especially the glooooorias. I think it was the way you could harmonize to it. Good thing there are enough Christmas Carols around that everyone can have a different favourite.

  4. Longfellow doesn't mince words, does he? But I must say, Joy, that your stanza brings tears to my did when we sang it at Writer's Cafe and it did again today--so much power, so much hope, in the proclamation of God's message of love and peace. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Thank you for this researched and added to post on the carols. This song has long struck a chord with me as well … the victory over despair, even while peace is hard to find. The inner peace is what we long for. Thank you for musically putting together many lovely thoughts. (I had to sing the lines as I read them.)
    Merry, merry, merry, merry, Christmas………

    1. And Merry Christmas to you too Jocelyn.

  6. Anonymous8:18 am GMT-7

    I am not going to be too popular here, but I have an aversion to Christmas Carols as they seem to be played way too much on radio stations. Yet, I do love Longfellow's words here, and your stanza at the end fits so well. Thank you for letting us in to Longfellow's life making the song so much richer through understanding.

    1. What?? Not like Christmas Carols?? haha I agree they seem to be played over and over and over. But I do love that the gospel is being shared to those who are unaware that it is being shared. :)

  7. Thanks for your post, Joy
    I love Christmas carols and am "guilty" of playing them at other times of the year than Christmas :) I love the idea of writing an additional stanza to a Christmas carol. Thanks for the inspiration and encouragement.

    1. My family used to roll their eyes when I started playing Christmas music in September! But now my grown daughters are doing the same thing ... haha. Yes, I think they are good any time of the year.

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  9. Joylene,
    I really enjoyed your post this morning. I read it to my hubby. We both didn't know about the history of Christmas Bells. You did a splendid job of adding the final verse. I am with you. I love hearing the Christmas music - at the airport! in the courtyard of our place here in Mesa, AZ. In the stores. I sing along and find it soothing in the bustle of life.
    Blessings and Merry Christmas,

  10. Oh, Joylene, what a gift you have given us in these sweet songs and images. I'm so glad you focused on Longfellow's song. Our pastor used it in his message and it is one of my favorite verses, going from despair to hope. Your additional verse is beautiful!


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