Written by Virginia Kruta, columnist for The Daily Wire
Every year about this time, in addition to the usual holiday chaos, I think about two things: the Christmas my grandfather spent in a small Belgian city surrounded by the enemy, and my favorite Christmas song, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me for a moment.
In mid-December of 1944, my grandfather — a tank mechanic with the 9th Armored Division — was in a little town called Longville, Belgium, just a few miles from the Luxembourg border. He had only arrived in Europe two months earlier, and the Allied commanders had chosen the Ardennes forest as a “safe” place where newer arrivals could acclimate before pushing into Germany.
But on December 16th, the German Army launched a surprise attack and forced men like my grandfather to retreat into the nearby city of Bastogne — which had only been liberated from Nazi control a few months earlier. The Germans brought the strength of over 100,000 troops and quickly surrounded Bastogne, where some 20,000 Americans waited — without supplies, without ammunition, and without winter uniforms — as the temperatures dropped into single digits and then below zero.
In addition to the bombs and machine-gun fire, the Germans fired pamphlets into American-controlled areas: drawings of little girls crying because their fathers, American soldiers, were going to die and promises that if they surrendered, they would have hot meals and warm clothing.
They had no idea whether air support would be able to get through because of the weather. They did not know whether General Patton would arrive in time to save them. At many points, they probably all felt that hope was lost.
And that’s where the song comes in. Adapted from a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the beginning lyrics are as follows:
“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, Their old familiar carols play, Wild and sweet, the word repeat, Peace on earth, goodwill to men.
I thought that now the time had come, The belfries of all Christendom, Had rung so long, the unbroken song, Peace on earth, goodwill to men.
Longfellow writes that, after all these years, surely the message the angels delivered to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth must have sunk in. Surely everyone has taken that message to heart by now.
But alas, Longfellow continues:
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.
And Longfellow is right. It’s pretty easy to look out at the world, the state of politics, and other things, and feel like hate has overpowered the Christmas message of love and peace. It’s even easier when you’re surrounded by an unrelenting enemy.
But that’s where Longfellow’s tone changes:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleeps, The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, With peace on earth, goodwill to men.”
His final verse is a reminder that, no matter how bleak the night, the real Christmas message is not just one of love and peace — but of hope.