Jingle Bells was written by James Lord Pierpont in 1857. It was originally released under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh.” The song got its new name when published in 1859 under the revised title of “Jingle Bells.”
James Lord Pierpont was born on April 25, 1822 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, the Reverend John Pierpont (1785–1866), was a pastor of the Hollis Street Unitarian Church in Boston, an abolitionist and a poet.
In the beginning…
Jingle Bells is usually associated with Christmas. However, it had nothing to do with Christmas when it was composed. It was originally intended for Thanksgiving in the USA. There is a story that it was written to be sung by a children’s church choir, but this is uncertain. There is, of course, no mention of Christmas in the lyrics of the song. It seems it became a Christmas song simply due to the association with the bells on Santa’s Sleigh! This song has been translated into many different languages by various translation agencies.
It started to become popular with the spread of phonograph records and later on radio, which allowed the song to be heard by a nationwide audience.
As well as quickly becoming a favourite Christmas song, “Jingle Bells” was often used as a drinking song at parties! People would jingle the ice in their glasses as they sang, enjoying the double entendre of “upsot”. And in those days, a sleigh ride gave courting couples a rare chance to be together, unchaperoned, in distant woods or fields, with all the opportunities that afforded!
There is some debate about where it was written. Medford, Massachusetts claims to be as the birthplace of the song. There is a plaque at No. 19 on the High Street, provided by the Medford Historical Society which says:
“On this site stood the Simpson Tavern, where in James Pierpont wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified that the song was written here. Pierpont had the song copyrighted in 1857 while living in Georgia. “Jingle Bells,” tells of the sleigh races held on Salem street in the early 1800s.”
However, there is another Historical marker in Savannah, Georgia that says,
“Pierpont served as music director here in the 1850’s, when it was a Unitarian Church located on Oglethorpe Square.”
It seems more likely that he wrote the song in Medford where snow was commonplace, and sleighs were often seen, rather than in the warmer climate of Savannah.
The first song to be broadcast from space
Astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, orbiting Earth on Gemini 6 on Dec. 16, 1965, made “Jingle Bells” the first song to be heard from space. They were reentering the earth’s atmosphere when they reported that they had seen an unidentified object. They contacted the mission control and said,
“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.”
Then the ground controllers heard the music of Jingle Bells played by the astronauts, on a tiny harmonica and bells. They are in the Smithsonian Museum today.