Here’s Why ‘Jingle Bells’ Was Originally Written for Thanksgiving

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From the delicious desserts to dazzling decorations, the holiday season is a time to celebrate. Of course, celebrations often involve music, and Christmas is certainly synonymous with several familiar tunes.

But ironically, one of the most popular Christmas carols around was originally written for a different holiday altogether.

Both kids and adults around the world know the lyrics of “Jingle Bells” by heart (at least the first verse), but few know the popular Christmas-time tune was actually written in the early 1850s as a Thanksgiving song.

Inspired by watching sleigh races in Medford, Mass., James Lord Pierpont wrote and published the song in 1857 under the name “One Horse Open Sleigh” for his father’s Sunday school class’ Thanksgiving performance. The rhythm of the tune mimics that of a trotting horse’s bells. In New England in pre-automobile days, it was common to adorn horses’ harnesses with straps bearing bells as a way to avoid collisions at blind intersections, since a horse-drawn sleigh in snow makes almost no noise. Pierpont’s piece was such a hit at the Thanksgiving performance that his father’s class performed it again during the Christmas season. Two years later, it was published a second time under its more familiar title.

If you take a closer look at the lyrics, you may be surprised to see there is no specific mention of Christmas. In fact, the only association with the holidays are the references to snow.


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!

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

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.

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.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped the song from becoming a holiday playlist favorite.

No matter if you are celebrating Thanksgiving or Christmas, you can’t go wrong with “Jingle Bells.” And because it was originally written for the Thanksgiving season, it’s officially never too early to break out this old-time tune!

Unlike “All I Want for Christmas.” That should wait until at least December…