Music

Is 'Jingle Bells' a Christmas Song?

The Christmas season often comes with flavors of gingerbread and peppermint. There’s plenty of sleigh bells included in songs like “Sleigh Ride” and even some lyrics regarding the sweet sounds of jingle bells. 

The holiday song “Jingle Bells” wasn’t always about Christmas, though. Here’s what we know about the origin of this Christmas classic. 

There are several versions of ‘Jingle Bells’ that ring in the holiday season

It’s a holiday classic decades old and still beloved by listeners of all ages. “Jingle Bells” tells the story of a one-horse open sleigh and dashing through the snow. It was written in the 1800s by James Lord Pierpont, who also wrote the lyrics. 

Although it was initially titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” the name for this tune changed two years following its debut. Decades later, the song appeared in holiday movies like A Christmas Story, with some children even changing the lyrics. Award-winning artists recorded their versions of this Christmas classic. 

That includes Frank Sinatra for his album Ultimate Christmas and Michael Bublé for his album Christmas (Deluxe Special Edition.) Even Mickey Mouse and his friends have a version of “Jingle Bells” available for streaming on Spotify. However, “Jingle Bells” wasn’t initially meant to be a Christmas song.

James Lord Pierpont wrote ‘Jingle Bells’ for another holiday other than Christmas

“Jingle Bells” has been a favorite holiday song of many listeners, although it was initially meant for a holiday other than Christmas. It was intended for the November United States-based holiday, Thanksgiving. 

According to History.com, some historical accounts state “Jingle Bells” was first performed for a Thanksgiving church service, with the lyrics decidedly being too risqué for an “ecclesiastical audience.” 

“Given the songwriter’s rebellious nature, it shouldn’t be surprising that ‘Jingle Bells’ has a bit of a rebel-without-a-cause attitude,” the website continues. “The less-known verses of the song describe picking up girls, drag-racing on snow, and a high-speed crash.”

Other songs took on a holiday theme, including ‘Carol of the Bells’ and Fleet Foxes’ ‘White Winter Hymnal’

“Jingle Bells” wouldn’t be the only song with a Christmas rebranding. “White Winter Hymnal,” with an a capella version popularized by Pentatonix, appears on the band’s album That’s Christmas to Me (Deluxe Edition).

According to Business Insider, “Carol of the Bells,” which has since been recreated for Home Alone and by the a capella group Pentatonix, wasn’t originally about Christmas. 

“It was a Ukrainian folk chant called ‘Shchedryk’ that welcomed the spring and described a bird flying into someone’s house to tweet about good fortune,” the article states. “Composer Peter Wilhousky heard the chant performed and wrote the English lyrics to the popular, fast-paced ‘Carol of the Bells.’”

Some versions of “Jingle Bells,” including one recorded by Bing Crosby and another by Sinatra, are available on the music streaming platform Spotify.

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