Justin Taylor explains the origins of the song:
The lyrics originate from the poem “Christmas Bells” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, written on Christmas day in 1863. But the original was not a feel-good song but one born in grief. Longfellow’s wife had died in a fire in 1860. And on December 1, 1863, the widower received the news that his eldest son, 19-year-old Charley, had been nearly paralyzed by a gunshot wound fighting for the Union in the Civil War. It was with that background that he penned this poem about the dissonance between the Christmas bells, the singing of “peace on earth,” and the world around him of injustice and violence—ending with the hope for eschatological peace.
A sobering poem with a haunting, but hopeful melody. May the Prince of Peace reign on earth far as the curse is found.