‘Jingle Bells’ is one of the best known Christmas songs in the world yet its history tells us that is not specifically a Christmas song. Known today as a fun and laughter filled Christmas song and it is popular as the subject of parody. James Lord Pierpont originally wrote the song in 1857 and it was copyrighted at the time as ‘One Horse Open Sleigh’. The song was reprinted in 1859 with the revised title of ‘Jingle Bells’. Pierpont wrote the song for a Thanksgiving program at a church in Savannah, Georgia in the USA where he was the resident organist.
The tune of ‘Jingle Bells’ has been used in German and French songs to celebrate winter fun. Lyrics are completely unrelated to the ones we all know and love. For example, Francis Blanche wrote the French song ‘Vive Le Vent’ meaning ‘Long Live the Wind’ with references to new year’s day.
In 1898 ‘Jingle Bells’ was first recorded by the Edison Male Quartette in the USA. It has since been recorded by many great artists including Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters. In 2006 when Kimberley Locke sang it, it became a number one hit on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
Here is a fun fact. In 1965, December 16th ‘Jingle Bells’ was the first song broadcast from outer space. Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford, the astronauts aboard Gemini 6 played a prank. They relayed to mission control that they saw a UFO with eight smaller UFO’s in front. Their reports followed that the pilot in the larger command module UFO was wearing a red suit. The prank concluded with the astronaut duo playing ‘Jingle Bells’ on a harmonica accompanied by sleigh bells that they had smuggled on board. Today at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum both instruments are on display. Interestingly, they are considered the first musical instruments to be played in space!
‘Jingle Bells’ has also been the subject of parody. The best known homage to the original song is ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ by Bobby Helms. In the 1960’s children in the USA commonly sang the verse ‘Jingle bells, Santa smells, Easter’s on its way. Oh what fun it is to ride in a beat up Chevrolet.’ Here is another parody of ‘Jingle Bells’, a verse which adults and children alike loved and continue to love to sing while enjoying a few laughs along the way ‘Dashing through the snow, on a pair of broken skis, crashing into trees, and a piece of moldy cheese Ha Ha Ha, the snow is turning red, I think I’m almost dead, please rush me to the hospital before I lose my head. Ha Ha Ha.’
‘Jingle Bells’ continues to be a Christmas favorite song whether sung in its original form or whether by parody, it is still popular throughout the world today. A song that brings families and communities together sharing good cheer and holiday fun at Christmas time each year!