The Story Behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”


Casting Crowns “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” came is at #4 on the WCSG Top 10 Christmas songs of 2020. In researching things to talk about, we stumbled upon the story behind this song, that actually started out as a poem!

The roots of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” date back to 1863 and is a Christmas carol based on the poem “Christmas Bells” by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Prior to writing the poem, Henry lost his wife of 18 years to an accidental fire. Then, during the American Civil War, his oldest son Charles, joined the Union Army without his consent, only to be severely wounded months later, ending his time as a soldier.

On Christmas Day 1863, Henry, a 57-year-old widowed father of six children, who’s oldest son had been nearly paralyzed as his country fought a war against itself—wrote the poem seeking to capture the dissonance in his own heart and the world he observes around him that Christmas Day.

He heard the Christmas bells ringing and the singing of “peace on earth”, but he observed the world of injustice and violence that seemed to mock the truthfulness of this optimistic outlook.
The theme of listening recurs throughout the poem, eventually leading to a settledness of confident hope even in the midst of bleak despair as Henry recounts to himself that God is alive and righteousness shall prevail.

It wouldn’t be until 1872 that the poem is known to have been set to music, and then in 2008 Casting Crowns would give their take on it.

Check out the full story HERE!

~Jeremy & Amanda