At Christmas I often reflect on the incongruity of peace amid conflict, hope amid despair, light amid darkness. I am reminded of the simple paradox that light can push back darkness, but darkness cannot overcome light.
And nothing expresses this paradox better than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1864 poem, “Christmas Bells,” later set to music as the carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
We seldom hear the peal of church bells anymore, but in Longfellow’s time it was prominent in every town—especially at Christmas.
On Christmas Day 1864, our nation was enveloped in the darkness and despair of the Civil War. Yet Longfellow was struck by the joy and jubilation of the Christmas bells.