I had such a great response to previous posts on Christmas during the Civil War that I thought I would share some others tidbits that I’ve discovered.

First of all, just like a variety of other issues that are covered in Shades of Gray, the North and South were divided on the celebration of Christmas. In the South, Christmas was a much more important part of the social season. In fact, the first three states to make Christmas a legal holiday were: Alabama in 1836, and Louisiana and Arkansas in 1838.

Christmas Carols
Singing Christmas carols was a popular activity during the Civil War, and many of the same hymns that we sing today can be traced back to that era. Popular songs of the time were Silent Night, O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing and Deck the Halls.

Some say that Christmas carols are actually forerunners of the modern-day protest song since many of the carols penned during this dark period in our nation’s history were commentaries on the war.

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, for instance, was written by minister Edmund Sears, and touches upon the desire for peace. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, meanwhile contains strong anti-war sentiment(although most of the most blatant versus are omitted today).

If you are not familiar with Longfellow’s hymn, the first verse is:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

You can tell it is a war-time song by these two stanzas:

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 two stanzas that are usually omitted because of their sense of despair and bitterness are:

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.

I know the next time I am in church singing a hymn I will be analyzing the words for their true meaning and wondering about the period in history they were written.


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