In 1861, Longfellow’s wife Fanny clipped the curls of her seven-year old daughter and decided to preserve them in wax. A few drops fell unnoticed on her dress. When a breeze gusted through the window, it ignited Fanny’s dress. She ran frantically to her husband’s study where Henry tried to extinguish the flames with a throw rug. When that didn’t work, he wrapped his arms around Fanny in hopes of smothering the flames. Henry could not even attend his own wife’s funeral due to the severity of burns to his face, arms, and hands.
The Christmas following his wife’s death, Longfellow wrote, How inexpressibly sad are all th holidays. A year after that he wrote, “I can make no record of these days. Better to leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”
Almost a year later, Longfellow heard that his oldest son Charles, a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac, had been severely wounded. A bullet passed under his shoulder blades, ripping off one of his spinal processes. That Christmas Henry left his journal entry blank.
Finally, on Christmas Day of 1864, Longfellow wrote the words of the poem, “Christmas Bells.” Apparently, tragedy was not able to take Longfellow’s hope in God and God was able to renew Henry’s peace.