Watch the True Story Behind a Well-Known Christmas Carol

MOVIE BLOG: Do you know the moving story behind ‘I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day’?

‘I Heard the Bells’ tells a moving true story of a poem, family and faith.
‘I Heard the Bells’ tells a moving true story of a poem, family and faith. (photo: Sight & Sound Films)

Here at the Register, we have covered the moving story behind the Christmas carol I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. After his second wife’s tragic death and his son’s injuries amid the Civil War, American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow penned the poem Christmas Bells on Christmas Day 1863: 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and mild 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.”

The lovely refrain — “peace on earth, good-will to men” — is from the King James Version of Luke 2:14.

Now, the story behind the poem and subsequent carol is told in the movie I Heard the Bells, which I found to be good viewing of late.

I enjoy true-story films, and this one was inspiring, and the Christmas connection is a blessed bonus. The famous poet is shown among a loving family and then working through loss, grief and worry, including his own recovery, and concern over a son at war.

Given how 2023 has been filled with global and national strife, and there are so many things to pray for, with dear intentions for family, friends, Church, colleagues, communities and greater world, I think it resonated even more with me as a viewer, especially the scene when inspiration strikes and pen takes to paper.

Indeed, prayers for peace on earth fill our hearts as we celebrate God With Us.

If your family is looking for a movie to watch over these Christmas days, check out this film (when you aren’t making your way through all of the best versions of A Christmas Carol, that is).

It is a story of light amid darkness — of the human condition and how faith can provide a light that reflects the Light of the World, who came at Christmas. 

peace on earth, good-will to men ...



A lovely Christmas commercial that will move your heart:

A Holiday to Remember | Chevrolet

Caveat: At one point in the movie, during what appears to be an Anglican communion service on Christmas, wife Fanny Longfellow explains in voice-over (taken from her letters) how deeply her soul was moved at that moment. In a quick perusal of the link to her letters, she doesn’t seem to hold Catholicism in particularly high regard, though she mentions the beauty of Catholic churches. Her faith does seem sincere in her letters, as well as in the film. May she and her poet husband who gave us this lovely poem-turned-carol rest in peace.

In terms of a viewing caveat overall, there are a few battle scenes and themes of injury (burns and war wounds), death and a funeral, including an open casket; also, the horrors of slavery are mentioned amid abolitionist discussions, and there is a suggestion of drug dependence (due to injury). Good viewing overall.