Tuesday, August 16, 2022

"The One-Horse Open Sleigh" - The Origin of "Jingle Bells" by Jo-Ann Roberts


Perhaps no single piece of popular music is more universally recognized during the Christmas holiday season than "Jingle Bells", the jaunty tune about the joys of dashing through snow-covered fields while riding in a one-horse open sleigh.
In my current Christmas WIP (shh, I can't say much about it...yet!), the FMC is encouraging her children to practice the song to divert their attention. Further along in the story, the MMC sings it to the FMC when he takes her on a sleigh ride.
By adding accurate historical tidbits to my books, it gives a layer of richness and authenticity to the stories. Because the story's time frame is between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I researched holiday songs and carols. Much to my delight, I discovered that "The One-Horse Open Sleigh" (a.k.a. 'Jingle Bells") was composed in 1850, some twenty-one years before my story takes place.

Although historians are still debating the when, where, and why of the song's composition, it is accepted the tune was written at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts in 1850 by James Lord Pierpont. A witness, Mrs. Otis Waterman, verified the location of the song's composition. While living in Savannah, Pierpont copyrighted "Jingle Bells." Many Savannah historians believe that Pierpont penned the song about sleigh rides in Medford while in Georgia experiencing his first snowless winter as an ode to his Massachusetts snowy upbringing.

The debate between Savannah and Medford began in 1985 when Savannah erected a historical marker across from the Unitarian Church Pierpont called home.
 A few years later the mayor of Medford sent a letter to the mayor of Savannah stating the song was composed in Medford in 1850. Yet, Savannahians contends that because the song was copyrighted in 1857 while Pierpont in their city, they proclaim Savannah as the home of "Jingle Bells".

Regardless of precisely where and when "Jingle Bells" might have been written, it was clear the tune was not intended as a Christmas song. Some local history narratives claim the song was inspired by Medford's popular sleigh races during the 19th century. Though the song only mentions snow--and not Christmas or December--many believe Pierpont wrote the song for a Thanksgiving program at his father's Sunday school. The song proved so popular the children were asked to sing the song again at Christmastime and has been tied to the latter holiday ever since.  

This version of the story has been disputed by some, however, who believe "Jingle Bells" would have been too racy for a Sunday school in the 1850s.

"The references to courting would not have been allowed in a Sunday school program of that time, such as 'Go it while you're young'".

Instead, it was just a sleighing song. Fast sleighs and pretty girls. Some things never change.


The song became so popular in the 1860s and 1870s it was featured in a variety of parlor songs and college anthologies in the 1880s. It was first record in 1889 on an Edison cylinder. This recording, believed to be the first Christmas record is lost, but an 1898 recording also from Edison Records survives.

The two first stanzas and chorus of the original 1857 lyrics differed slightly from those known today. It is unknown who replaced the words with those of the modern version. Underlined lyrics are the removed lyrics from the original version. Bold lyrics are the new lyrics in the current version.

Dashing thro' the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O'er the hills (fields) we go,
Laughing all the way.
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh, what sport (What fun it is) to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight.

|: chorus :|
Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy (fun) 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— (then) we got upsot.

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Some people come into your life as lessons…
Unexpected fatherhood finds former bank detective, Lucas Harmon desperate for a woman to care for his orphaned nieces. A governess…perhaps? A housekeeper…maybe? A wife…definitely not! Six years ago, the wealthy Chicago socialite he planned to wed, publicly spurned his affections. Despite his determination to guard his feelings, a meddling matchmaking conductor and an encounter with a past acquaintance threatens to upend his heart.
…some come as blessings
Anxious to leave behind the whispers and stares of two jilted love affairs, Boston socialite, Ainsley MacKenzie hopes for solitude on her way to New Hope, Kansas. But when the kindly conductor enlists her help to care for two orphaned girls, she couldn’t say no. Little did she know their uncle and guardian was the one man she couldn’t forget… Lucas Harmon. Taking a chance, Ainsley offers Lucas an unusual (some might say, scandalous!) arrangement. She’ll look after the children, read them stories and cook their meals until Christmas, giving Lucas time to find a permanent replacement. Yet, the longer she cares for the family the more she longs to be part of it—whatever the risk to her heart.


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