Christmas Open House
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet the words repeat,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
I thought how as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had roll'd along th' unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
JSU News Bureau
November 20, 2002 --On Christmas Eve, 1864, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sat down and wrote the poem "Christmas Bells." It was a cathartic act. Longfellow was still mourning the death of his wife, Fanny, two years earlier in a tragic fire. He had also recently received word that his eldest son, Charles, a soldier in the Union Army, had been seriously wounded during battle. Overcome with grief, Longfellow scratched out the seven-stanza poem chronicling his despair. Decades later, an anonymous someone edited out the two stanzas that made reference to the Civil War and set the poem to the tune of Waltham written by John Baptiste Calkin in 1872.
Although not as well known as "Deck the Halls" or "Silent Night," "I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" is still a powerful carol, revealing an inconsolable man's re-discovery of faith and hope. It is this carol that Beth Meehan, "First Lady of Jacksonville State University," carries closest to her heart at Christmas time. It was the favorite of her late mother, Carol Nelson Stevens.
Faith, family and tradition are a big part of the Meehan family's Christmas and for the third year in a row, they will be opening the President's Home to share those traditions with Jacksonville State University. And this year, the invitation to the holiday open house has been extended beyond the boundaries of the JSU campus to the surrounding community.
"That is what Christmas is about," Beth Meehan says, "community."
The open house will be held on December 2 from 4:00 to 5:30.
Preparing the President's Home for the Christmas season is a task that she does not take lightly. Planning begins for next year before the last decoration is packed up the year before.
"I am always looking at ideas in stores and thinking 'we should do that next year,' " says Meehan.
And in despair I bow'd 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."
By the time Santa Claus stops at the Meehan house, there will be eight trees set up throughout the house. It takes eight to fill the large dwelling.
The first year, when Mrs. Meehan put up just the decorations they had brought to the President's home, "it looked weak."
Each of the three Meehan children has a small personal Christmas tree to enjoy in their bedrooms. Downstairs, there are a total of five decorated trees. In the music room, a tall tree, flanked by the two front windows, is decorated with the ornaments handmade by the Meehan children.
The living room tree is a much thicker tree, decorated in the Meehan's personal ornament collection: ornaments that have been handed down from previous generations, ornaments given as gifts, and the ornaments they have collected from each of the places they have visited.
In Dr. Meehan's "room" is the Jacksonville State University tree. "I am not about to move anything in here," revealed Beth Meehan as she entered the room. The small tree is perched on a table and decorated in red and white striped candy canes. "JSU colors," she shared. The tree also displays JSU emblazoned ornaments as well as a university crest.
In the front foyer a tall, unadorned tree waits patiently for its decorator, owner of The Colonial Cottage in Heflin and JSU alumna, Pam Payne.
The eighth tree will not be set up in the house until after the campus closes for winter break. It will be the tree that Santa stops at in the Meehan home and will be set up in the family room. Until then, it will be in Dr. Meehan's office in Bibb Graves.
But trees are not the only part of Christmas decorating. Greenery and garland trim windows and doors, cabinets and banisters. A snowy Christmas village has developed on top of the grand piano that Drew Meehan takes his piano lessons on. A Dickens Village, depicting the scenes and sites of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol adorns the mantel in Dr. Meehan's study. It was a gift from him to Mrs. Meehan.
"Someday, I would like to have it out all year round," she said wistfully.
On Christmas Eve, the family will stay up a little later, and read the Dickens' story, a favorite of both Dr. and Mrs. Meehan's, together.
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."
'Til ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
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