ARTS + ENTERTAINMENT

‘Jingle Bells’ was originally written as a Thanksgiving song

Nov 26, 2020, 10:07 AM
(Photo Credit: @camperdownlane Instagram)
(Photo Credit: @camperdownlane Instagram)

SALT LAKE CITY — Did you know, ‘Jingle Bells’ was originally written to be sung on Thanksgiving? We didn’t believe it either until we did some deep digging. 

Each year, the holiday season encroaches on more holiday territory. Pumpkins from Halloween barely have time to rot before candy canes and red bows come out to play. 

There used to be a rule- the lights don’t go up until after Thanksgiving. However, the issue goes deeper than radio stations jamming out to Christmas tunes in November. 

Christmas season has not only eclipsed Thanksgiving- but it stole one of its songs: ‘Jingle Bells’. Originally named ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’,  James Lord Pierpont composed the song in 1850 for his Thanksgiving Sunday school class.

According to History.com, the jingling bells refer to the New England sleigh races that were popular in the 1800s. After Pierpont performed the song during a Thanksgiving concert, it was officially published in 1857. 

Decades later, Christmas adopted ‘Jingle Bells’ as its own. Bing Crosby made ‘Jingle Bells’ a Christmas hit in the 1940s, including it on his Merry Christmas record. The record quickly became one of the best-selling holiday albums of all time. 

However, Crosby left out a few very important verses. Pierpont envisioned the song as more than just those bells on bobtails ringing and making spirits bright. 

The original ‘Jingle Bells’

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]

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 bobtailed bay
Two forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you’ll take the lead

This lesser-known version of the song describes picking up girls, drag-racing on snow and a high-speed crash. The lyrics “go it while you’re young” in the final verse of the secular standard is hardly about a holy or silent night.

So, there you have it. ‘Jingle Bells’, or ‘The One Horse Open Sleigh’, is about dashing through the snow to celebrate Thanksgiving, not Christmas. 

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‘Jingle Bells’ was originally written as a Thanksgiving song