by Helen Keller*
Hear, oh, hear! The Christmas bells are ringing peal upon peal, chime upon chime! Full and clear they ring, and the air quivers with joy. What is the burden of their music as it floats far and wide? Awake! Awake! it says. A great Change is coming -- peace upon earth, good-will to all men.
Together the bells and I call aloud, and we are not afraid! Peace upon earth, good-will to all men! Awake! Awake! We shall not rest again until good-will reigns, which is God's will done, nor shall we lie down until the voice of the angels is heard in all the circuits of the earth. We shall not slumber until light ariseth to all who sit in darkness, neither shall we sleep again until there is peace and gladness and content in the hearts of men. For a Great Change is coming, a wondrous Change, a World-change that shall fulfill all joy in a happy humanity.
Ring the Great Change, O Bells! Hear, oh, hear, all people! Long and confident the Christmas bells are ringing. Above our houses and through our open doors their voices fly. And they say: Awake! Awake! The night of man's captivity is at an end, the dawn of peace between man and man hasteneth to come and shall not tarry!
The bells and I are strong with a new hope, vibrant with expectancy of this Great Change. Already men and women are working and thinking and living for this Great Change, and their efforts are mighty with the might of intelligence and good-will. For them the bells of a world-Christmas are ringing, and shall not cease with the brief hours of one glad day. Every day, every year, these men and women plan work, and dream, and their works are the heavenly message of the sweet-tongued bells!
Hear, oh, hear the bells! For ages the Christmas bells have rung their message of peace upon earth and good-will to all men. For ages they have summoned a sleeping world to a new life, a new ideal, a new joy. But too often they have sounded in ears sealed with ignorance. Too often has their glad news passed unheeded: "O children of men, your happiness lies but your will away from you. Unite, love, serve all, and ye shall grasp it.
Now, here and now, the bells and I will be heard! Not once a year, but from morning to morning we will be heard singing exultant, sure of our message. Let the sun pour its flood of light upon the land, or let the whole sky be dark, we will send our song up and down and all around, our song of the Great Change. Too long have men turned their faces from their tasks, from the needs of the common day, and fixed their eyes upon a better life sometime, somewhere. Too long have they dreamed of a distant life, instead of bringing that life into their earthly days. The Great Change ushers a true religion into the world, now and here -- service for all men equally, devotion of each to the good of all alike.
Hear, oh hear the Christmas bells as they greet the sun, the frost, the sailing cloud, the roving wind! Are they not the bells of your childhood's dearest joy, the bells of your brightest memories, the bells of your highest hope? Do they not voice your silent, baffled wish that all things shall be made new, that there shall be no more cramped, darkened lives, no more cruel customs, no more misery which grinds the beauty, the sweetness out of the human soul? If this wish came true, would it not be Christmas indeed -- Christmas for all men, Christmas all the year?
Hear! To-day the bells and I call you to the Christmas of mankind. For it has begun, and we shall not falter nor turn back until every man and woman and child in this land and in every land has a chance to live happily and to develop his mind and do the best of which he is capable. Generation after generation has learned from its mother's lips the story of the birth of Christ, and slowly the words have borne flowers -- and the fruit is the Great Change. The Great Change is the new faith, the new effort to secure for every man his full share of the means, the comforts, the health, the knowledge, the virtue, which humanize life. As we lift up our voices, the bells and I to sound the joy of Christmas, we call to you: Approach this new faith with open hearts. Let us follow it fearlessly, wherever it may lead us, even though it lead us far from old and cherished beliefs. Dear they are indeed and hard to part with; but this new faith is too appealing, too bound up with all that is deepest, most tender, most necessary in human experience to be put aside.
Hear, on, hear the Christmas bells! How they answer one another from end to end of the country, peal upon peal, chime upon chime! From every spire and tower they utter the good tidings of great joy, the tidings of the Great Change, the cry that no humane heart can resist: "Brotherhood! Brotherhood! Brotherhood!"
Listen! Heed! For this is the harvest time of love. Souls are closer drawn to other souls. All that we have read and thought and hoped comes to fruition at this happy time. Our spirits are astir. We feel within us a strong desire to serve. A strange, subtle force, a new kindness, animates man and child. A new spirit is growing in us. No longer are we content to relieve pain, to sweeten sorrow, to give the crust of charity. We dare to give friendship, service, the equal loaf of bread, the love that knows no difference of station.
Hear, oh, hear the Christmas bells! Everywhere, everywhere they remind the world: Forget not the poor, nor let the hope of the needy fail.
The bells and I sing and are glad for Christmas, the day of all those who labour and keep the world alive. For them we sing and we shall not be still. The bells and I sing the workers of the world, on the Day of Him who was a boy in the carpenter's shop. This is the spirit of Christmas, that they whose lives are useful, whose deeds are good should receive the gift of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Should they stop their labour for a season, the world would starve. The stars would look down upon a world of silent cities, upon a devastated earth. Punctual as the bells the workers come and go. In winter's cold and summer's heat they hasten to the work of the world. Nothing halts them -- sickness, fatigue, grief, nor death. The mills of the world turn hourly, daily. We can tell the minute of their coming and going to their tasks; day after day, year after year, the procession of workers passes our doors. Through thousands of years have they been faithful, and Christmas shall open our hearts and let us say that in their lives the whole world lives.
Listen! Between the swelling peals of the Christmas bells do you not hear the tramp of countless feet? Behold the workers have marched in the night toward the land of their hearts' desire. In the night of long ages they have heard the call of the Great Change and at length they have answered. Through darkness, through anguish and horror, they have risen to the awful height of manhood. Century by century they have grown in power and intelligence. Forever and forever onward chime the bells! There has been no halting in the vast journey mankind has come. Nothing has been wasted, nothing has been lost. Every effort has counted. Every purpose, every pulse has fulfilled its task; incessantly men have moved onward to the dawn of the Great Change. Can you not see the wonders which the Christmas bells herald? Do they not sing to you of world-systems evolving and dissolving, coming and going like leaves upon the trees, like the human generations? And again they shall evolve into the Great Change. As the notes of the bells rise, blend, and meld away, so have the life-songs of old civilizations swelled to the heavens, echo upon echo, and sunk into silence. Persia, Greece, and Rome have flourished and decayed. The civilization of Briton, Frenchman, German, American is passing, changing into the broader, nobler ideas of the Great Change -- liberty, equality, and brotherhood.
Listen with your hearts. In a land but your will away from you, hear, oh, hear the Christmas bells ring, the winds blow, the rivers run, the earth break forth into flowers and the trees burst into leaf! Hear the birds singing and mating, and hear children freed from labour shouting in the street, young men and maidens smiling and marrying, old people praising God that the great change has come in their day. "We have died to live again. We have suffered that we may rejoice and be glad. What matters it -- all upheavals, all revolutions, all systems sent to wreck, if the Great Change comes afterward?
Then ring all the bells on earth! 'Tis Christmas Day in the morning of brotherhood. Ring man's great joy from pole to pole, from sea to sea! Tug with mighty arms at the bell rope that the sound may ring out full and far and long! Light the world's Christmas tree with stars. Heap offerings upon its mighty branches. Bring the Yule-log to the world-fireplace. Deck the world-house with holly and mistletoe and proclaim everywhere the Christmas of the human race!
*The Metropolitan Magazine, January 1913. Reprinted in Out of the Dark: Essays, Letters and Addresses on Physical and Social Vision. Doubleday, Page & Co. Garden City, NY. 1913. pp. 274-282. HTML rendering by Larry Hauser, Dec.26, 1997. ^