The Corvallis Oregon Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has hosted the Corvallis Community Nativity Festival for almost 30 years. It has been a beautiful tribute to the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ and a beloved tradition held by many. For 2022, this celebration of Christ will take the form of a community event of music and giving, as exemplified in the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.
The beautiful plea for “peace on Earth, good will toward men” found in the carol is more apt than ever today, as we wrestle with global conflict; the impact of a global pandemic on our communities and loved ones; and the economic repercussions that have resulted. As we considered the importance of those words, we were inspired by the music, the lyrics and the history of this treasured carol.
What is the story behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”?
On Christmas day in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write the poem we now know as the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” as a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Two years prior, his wife Frances had been sealing envelopes with hot wax when her clothes caught fire. Henry had rushed to her aid and tried to smother the flames, but it was to no avail, and Frances passed the next day. Badly burned himself and too sick to attend her funeral, Henry fell into depression, where at times he feared he would be sent to an asylum on account of his grief. In 1863, Longfellow, a staunch abolitionist, suffered another blow when his son Charley was severely wounded by a bullet as he fought as a member of the First Massachusetts Artillery in the Civil War.
On December 25, 1863, Longfellow — a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, the oldest of which being nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself — wrote a poem seeking to capture the dissonance between what he hoped for and what he observed on that Christmas Day. Henry heard the Christmas bells ringing in Cambridge as they sang of “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14), but he observed a world of injustice and violence around him. The penultimate stanza of his poem tells of his despair as he pondered,
“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.”
Perhaps you are feeling these same emotions this year, either from personal loss or just an overwhelming sense of the pain that is in the world. Take hope from Longfellow as he recounts in the final stanza, that God is alive, and righteousness shall prevail:
“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.”
Longfellow took his words from the second chapter of Luke where we read of the angel appearing to the shepherds declaring the birth of our Savior: “Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’”
A multitude of angels singing to announce His birth! There is a strong spirit in singing together and what better way to feel peace than through bearing witness of Jesus Christ through song! We invite you to join us in building unity within our faith community through the blessing of music and express our sincere appreciation to all the performers participating in the Light the World Corvallis concerts!
In addition to peace on earth through singing, we invite you to bring good will to humankind by giving. The Light the World event includes a variety of opportunities to give of your time, your talents, or your means in whatever way you feel inspired to support your community through local or global charities. Even small and simple efforts can bring much good!
Best wishes of hope this Christmas,
Dee-Anna, Cami, and Kristin
Light the World - Corvallis Directors 2022
The Gospel Coalition, The True Story of Pain and Hope Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day"
The New England Historical Society, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day - Hope Surfaces from Despair
The Poetry Foundation, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow