Our New Favorite Thanksgiving Song: Jingle Bells

As the weather turns a bit chilly and the days grow short, we enter the holiday season and turn to some of our favorite songs to bring some cheer. 

What you might not know is that our favorite Christmas song “Jingle Bells” isn’t a Christmas song at all.

“Jingle Bells” was written by James Lord Pierpont, uncle of financier and banker JP Morgan (or John Pierpont Morgan), for a Thanksgiving Sunday school program and published in 1857 under the title "The One Horse Open Sleigh". 

Born in Boston, Mass. in 1822, legend has it that Pierpont wrote the song at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Mass after watching the annual Sleigh Races on Salem Street. The song was first played during a Thanksgiving service by Pierpont’s brother, a Unitarian pastor in Savanna, Georgia, and re-published in 1859 as  "Jingle Bells, or The One Horse Open Sleigh". Both times the song was published it was not a hit, only becoming popular as a Christmas song a few years before his death in 1893.

Jingle Bells is often associated with Christmas because of its first verse and chorus, displaying a bucolic setting of riding through open, snow filled pastures on a horse-drawn sleigh. But as any New Englander will tell you, snowy Thanksgivings are commonplace. The second, third, and fourth verse depicts the sleigh races:

Lyrics to “The One Horse Open Sleigh”, as published in 1857:

"Dashing thro’ the snow,
In a one-horse open sleigh,
O’er the hills we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
Oh what sport to ride and sing
A sleighing song to night.

(Chorus) Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh.
Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way;
Oh! what joy 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 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, 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 to night
And sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bob tailed bay
Two forty as his speed.
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack, you’ll take the lead."

(Chorus)