I heard the bells on Christmas day

Published 1:47 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2018

We have just been reminded of some of the symbols of Christmas that are universal: the tree, angels, candles, wreaths, stars and bells!

The message of peace, love, and brotherhood seems to have been clearly ringing in the chimes from church bells during this special season of the year.

Throughout the years, church bells have pealed out the glad tidings of the birth of Jesus.

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Before modern communications, church bells were a common way to call a community together for all purposes, whether sacred or secular, happy or sad.

Did you hear the bells on Christmas Day 2017? Did those sounds remind you not only of Jesus’ birth but also of times past in your own life when you were uplifted or saddened by the pealing? We have come to associate the bells with Yuletide rejoicing.

As you look back, you may recall the poems, songs, and stories in which bells have played an important part in the continuing Christmas story. And, hopefully, these remembrances have been shared with the children or grandchildren in your family. Maybe you’ve shared them as a lesson in a Sunday School class at church or some other setting where children are included.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American poet, wrote the poem “Christmas Day” in 1863. It was first published in a juvenile magazine “Our Young Folks” in February 1865. The poem tells of the narrator’s despair, upon hearing that “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

The conclusion with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace on earth and good-will to men has ensured its popularity through the years as a Christmas poem and carol known and loved by generations.

As we recall the Longfellow poem from long ago, many of us also think of “Jingle Bells’ or “Silver Bells” as two other seasonal songs that we continue to enjoy. They are enjoyed by young and old alike, mainly because there is a song in our hearts at Christmas, and their popularity doesn’t lessen our appreciation of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

Were you reminded of God’s presence in our world by the ringing of bells from a church tower (“a joyful noise”) during this special season of the year? Can we take the message of hope for peace on earth into the approaching New Year?

William H. Baker, native of Claiborne County, and former resident of Middlesboro, Kentucky, may be contacted at wbaker@limestone.edu.