What you probably didn’t know about ‘Jingle Bells’
Christmas is just around the corner. This year, instead of jumping into endless political conversations at the dinner table, try throwing some Christmas knowledge at your family. The surprising history of one of America’s most beloved Christmas songs, “Jingle Bells,” may be enough to draw them in.
‘Jingle Bells’ was written by James Lord Pierpont. His nephew is J.P. Morgan. Yes, that J.P. Morgan.
According to findings by author and historian Christopher Klein, Pierpont’s older sister, Juliet Pierpont, married millionaire Junius Spencer Morgan. Their son, John Pierpont Morgan, went on to start one of the largest financial institutions in the world.
‘Jingle Bells’ was not meant to be a Christmas song
The song was actually first performed at a Thanksgiving church service and was never intended to be a Christmas staple, according to Klein. If you listen carefully to the lyrics, you will notice there is actually no mention of Christmas, Thanksgiving or any holiday, for that matter.
The song became associated with Christmas only decades after it was performed on September 15, 1857, on Washington Street in Boston, according to a researcher at Boston University, Kyna Hamill.
The song’s birthplace is contested
There are two historical plaques in two cities, each claiming to be the birthplace of Pierpont’s “Jingle Bells.”
A plaque in Medford, Massachusetts, suggests Pierpont wrote the song in 1850 while sitting in a tavern watching sleigh races on Salem Street. This is disputed by Hamill’s research, which found Pierpont couldn’t have written the song in 1850 because he was chasing cash in California during the Gold Rush.
There’s also a plaque in Savannah, Georgia, where people insist Pierpont wrote the song in late 1857 before leading the first “Jingle Bells” sing-along in a local church.
Hamill says Pierpont most likely wrote the song in a rooming house not far from where he lived in downtown Boston in 1857.
‘Jingle Bells’ was the first song broadcast from space
Ten days before Christmas 1965, astronauts Walter M. “Wally” Schirra Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford, orbiting aboard Gemini 6, met Gemini 7, piloted by Frank Borman and Jim Lovell. When it was time to reenter Earth’s atmosphere, on December 16, Schirra and Stafford playfully reported to Mission Control some sort of UFO.
“We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit…. Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon…. You just might let me pick up that thing…. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit.”
Ground controllers then began to hear the strains of none other than “Jingle Bells,” being played by the astronauts on a harmonica backed by miniature sleigh bells. Today, those bells and harmonica are on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
The original name of the song was ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’
Originally named “One Horse Open Sleigh” when written in 1857, Pierpont later copyrighted it as “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh.”