Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
Summary: The story behind the famous carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. The book follows the stories of a nun, an architect, a widow, a priest, a sister and brother, a military wife, and choir director, all against the backdrop of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his life leading up to his writing the famous Christmas poem. All the stories connect in the hallowed sanctuary of an old Boston cathedral, just down the street from Longfellow’s home, now turned museum.
Chiaverini is the author of bestsellers like The Spy Mistress, Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival, and Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker. It’s no surprise she continues using the backdrop of the Civil War and this poem created in the midst of one of the darkest points in American history.
Yet, as I read this book I didn’t feel like I was reading history, but news clippings of yesterday and today. I didn’t expect this book to be more of a history lesson, but I loved it, because I love history. History is supposed to help us learn from our mistakes, remember the good moments to celebrate, and create a brighter future. As I read about Longfellow’s experience of watching the Civil War unfold I felt stunned by how similar the dissension between the states then is to the dissension we’re experiencing now. We’re fighting each other, riots and fires are breaking out everywhere, and there’s a fight over who we want as our leader. How can we take so many strides to being better, to find ourselves falling into the same trap of disunity that divided our nation last time.
I never paid attention to the carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, and I didn’t even know if was a poem first. It wasn’t until I went to a Casting Crowns Christmas concert, where they played songs from their new album, one being their version of “I Heard the Bells”. They told the story of the original poem, of how it was written during the Civil War, when “hate was strong” and mocked the song of peace on earth and goodwill to men. What a perfect song to remember after the year we’ve had.
This is what I love about historical fiction. It shines a new light on old stories. Yes, this genre can get it wrong sometimes by adding too much “fiction” and not enough of the “historical”. Ultimately though, historical fiction is a great eye opener, reminding us of history that can touch us in the present.
Just look at last two stanzas the original poem, Christmas Bells, by Longfellow,
This year has seen hate so strong, mocking us all with it’s continually tragedies. As we wrap up this year though, this Christmas, for CHRISTMAS IS NOT CANCELED, the bells are ringing. The bells are ringing! They are reminding us God is not dead, wrong shall fail, right will prevail. Peace on earth, good-will to men! The bells are the smiles on children’s faces, the helping hands of neighbors, the lights on Christmas trees, the community food-banks feeding families in need, and all the other acts of love and kinds we see this season.
Let’s not miss the bells. Let’s not miss the opportunity to be the ring the bells ourselves. I highly recommend this book, and that you make print the original poem off, keep it as a reminder, make it your song for this year and the years to come.
Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And may we see peace on earth, good-will to men.