DAY 32: “Jingle Bells”

“May you jingle all the way to Christmas and beyond!”

“Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, O’er the fields we go, Laughing all the way…”  Could you name that song before I even started singing? “Jingle Bells” is one of the most performed and recognized holiday songs ever written.

Most of us hummed or sang it in our childhood days. It was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont and published under the title “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” It is claimed to have been written for a Sunday school choir and as a drinking song. (hmm…. now those are about as opposite as you can get!) James was from New England and a devoted organist. He originally wrote the song to sing at Thanksgiving. They liked it so much that they sang it at Christmas too! It soon caught on and has become an American classic that has spread all over the world. Pierpont was even inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame for this song!

Fun facts: There is some debate about where this song was composed. Both Georgia and Massachusetts claim the song. If you go to 19 High Street, Medford Square in Medford, Massachusetts, there is a beautiful, historical plaque in the center for all to see. It is prominently displayed and states: “‘JINGLE BELLS’ COMPOSED HERE” (notice the caps). On this site stood the Simpson Tavern where in 1856 James Pierpont wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified that the song was written here.  “Jingle Bells” tells the stories of the highly popular sleigh races held on Salem Street in the early 1800’s.

Interesting!  The plaque is displayed on the site where the Simpson Tavern used to be, and the song “Jingle Bells” is claimed to have been a drinking song. Also, Mrs. Waterman, (whoever she was), was in the tavern… and must have been important enough in order to get her name on the plaque and be the one verifying!

The State of Georgia claims the song because Pierpont relocated to Savannah (marrying the mayor’s daughter) to serve as an organist and music director of his brother’s church. That was where the song was published two years later.

The first two stanzas and chorus of the original 1857 song have differed slightly from those today. It is unknown who replaced them with the version we know. Other verses were added, and one is rarely sung because it is a little risqué.

Dating was very proper back then. A sleigh-ride outing gave an unescorted couple a rare chance to be together, unchaperoned, in distant woods or fields. Since a horse-drawn sleigh in snow makes almost no noise, in the winter it was common to put bells on horse’s harnesses to avoid collisions at blind intersections. Historians say that the “jingle” in this song refer to a certain kind of bell used on the harnesses. The rhythm of the song also mimics that of a trotting horse’s bells — I love that!

Jingle Bells

“Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bob tail ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight! Oh!

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh. Hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.”

In the second verse, the narrator takes a ride with a girl and loses control of the sleigh:

“A day or two ago
I thought I’d take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.”
|: chorus 😐

In the next verse (which is not in the original), he falls out of the sleigh and a rival laughs at him:

“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. Ah!”
|: chorus 😐

The last verse (which no one has ever heard of) is why it is the last verse and no one has heard of it!   We will just leave it there!

Another fun fact: “Jingle Bells” was the first song ever to be broadcast from space. Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra pulled a Christmas prank on Mission Control. While in space on December 16, 1965, they sent this report to Mission Control.

“C6 Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI: We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, up in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory traveling from north to south and has a very high climbing ratio. It looks like it might even be a… very low. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one… You might just let me try to pick up that thing. (The song “Jingle Bells” plays from Gemini VI). P7: We got that too, VI.  C6: That was live, VII, not tape. CC: you’re too much, VI.”

The astronauts had managed to smuggle a harmonica and sleigh bells aboard the rocket! Schirra played a mini harmonica (which was about one inch long by 3/8 inch wide) and Stafford played the bells. They jingled all the way from space to earth! And now you now the story of “Jingle Bells”.

May you jingle all the way to Christmas and beyond!


Mama Swan