Was "Jingle Bells" Written as a Christmas Song?
Myth

Jingle Bells was written as a Christmas song.

Is “Jingle Bells” a Christmas Song?

Jingle Bells may be one of the best known Christmas songs, but it was actually published in 1857 as a Thanksgiving song titled “One Horse Open Sleigh”.[1]Despite the fact “One Horse Open Sleigh” was written as a Thanksgiving song, today we call the song “Jingle Bells” and sing it at Christmas.

The Origin of “One Horse Open Sleigh”

“One Horse Open Sleigh” copyrighted and published as “One Horse Open Sleigh” by James Lord Pierpont on September 16, 1857. It was meant as a Thanksgiving song. It has been claimed to either be written as a sort of drinking song at a tavern in Massachusetts; or for a children’s choir at a church in Georgia.

A video with a modern rendition of the Thanksgiving classic “One Horse Open Sleigh”, arranged for banjo.

Where Did Pierpont Write the Song?

Despite it’s copyright date, there are conflicting stories about how the song was actually written. A plaque at 19 High Street in the center of Medford Square in Medford, Massachusetts commemorates the “birthplace” of “Jingle Bells,” and claims that Pierpont wrote the song there in 1850, at what was then the Simpson Tavern. According to the Medford Historical Society, the song was inspired by the town’s popular sleigh races during the 19th century.[2]

However, there is another theory that by 1850 Pierpont was the organist and music director of the Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia, where his brother, Rev. John Pierpont Jr., was employed. In August of the same year, James Pierpont married the daughter of the mayor of Savannah and stayed in Georgia even after the closing of the church.[2]

The original cover for Pierpont's published sheet music and an old photo of Americans eating a thanksgiving meal.

The original cover for Pierpont’s published sheet music and an old photo of Americans eating a thanksgiving meal.

Original “One Horse Open Sleigh” Lyrics

Below are the original 1857 lyrics to Jingle Bells.[3]

Dashing thro’ the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O’er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bobtail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

| chorus |
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

A day or two ago
I tho’t I’d take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side.
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we—we got upsot.
| chorus |

A day or two ago,
The story I must tell
I went out on the snow
And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by
In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
But quickly drove away,
| chorus |

Now the ground is white
Go it while you’re young,
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob-tailed bay
Two forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack, you’ll take the lead.
| chorus |



Conclusion

Jingle Bells was intended to be a Thanksgiving song celebrating Thanksgiving in America. Potentially either a drinking song for a adults, or a children’s choir song, or both. Despite it’s odd origins today it’s thought of as one of the most well-known American Christmas classics.


References

  1. Jingle Bells“. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved Nov 9, 2015.
  2. Willcox, Kris. “James Lord Pierpont and the mystery of ‘Jingle Bells‘”. UUWorld.org. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2014
  3. James J. Fuld. The Book of World-Famous Music, Fifth Edition, Dover Publications (New York), p. 313.


"Jingle Bells Was Written as a Christmas Song" is tagged with: Christmas, Thanksgiving


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Kg on

Thanksgiving deserves credit for this song

Thomas DeMichele on

Indeed it was