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Jingle All The Way

"Jingle Bells" was written and composed by James Lord Pierpont. Pierpont (who was eventually the uncle of J. P. Morgan), was born in Boston in 1822. He was the son of Unitarian minister, Rev. John Pierpont.  In 1832, James was sent to boarding school in New Hampshire, where he wrote home a letter to his mother describing going on a sleigh ride through the snow.  In 1849, James left his wife and children with his father, then minister in Medford, Massachusetts, to head west to California during the Gold Rush (brief pause here to give a shoutout to the Pioneer Valley History Network's project to catalog documents relating to the Gold Rush in Western Massachusetts).  Pierpont's business failed, and in the 1850s, he returned east and joined his brother, also a Unitarian minister, in Savannah, Georgia, where he served as the church organist.  Supposedly it was there, in Savannah, that Pierpont composed his famous tune, which was performed at Thanksgiving in 1857.  Medford, Massachusetts disputes this, claiming that Pierpont performed the piece in the 1850 at Simpson's Tavern, after having watched a sleigh race between Medford and Malden.  Regardless, Pierpont copyrighted the song and published it in 1857 in Boston under the title "One Horse Open Sleigh."  The song was republished, under its current title, "Jingle Bells," 150 years ago, in 1859.

Today, "Jingle Bells" is in the top 25 most recorded pieces of music, and was the first song broadcast from space, when the astronauts of Gemini VI smuggled sleighbells aboard their spacecraft, December 19, 1965.

For those who aren't familiar with all the lyrics, here are all four verses, in their original 19th century form:

Jingle Bell HorseDashing 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.

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.


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 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.


All this begs the question, though... what are jingle bells, and why do horses wear them with sleighs?

A "jingle" bell is a spherical bell with a ball bearing or some other piece of metal trapped inside to act as a clapper.  Typically, jingle bells are formed from a single piece of metal, and feature an x shaped slit opening, although heavier, more expensive or antique jingle bells may feature a single slit.  Jingle bells are distinct from other types of horse bells, which may resemble cow bells tied around the neck, or may take the form of saddle chimes, saddle bells, or shaft bells / chimes. 

Horse bells as ornamentation originated with pagan beliefs about using the melodious sounds of bells to either ward off evil spirts from the horse, or attract benevolent or protective spirits or faeries with their tinkling.  As the old pagan beliefs faded, horse bells were seen as a way of dressing up a team of horses and drawing attention and admiration to oneself.  Horse bells were brought out for special occasions, events and festivals, or when one wanted to make a particularly grand entrance.  Hence, this is where we get the expression, "I'll be there with bells on."

Horse bells also had a much more practical purpose.  They warned pedestrians and other drivers in the streets of the approach of a vehicle, which was particularly useful when snow was on the ground and vehicles were pulled on runners.  The snow muffled the sound of the horses and the sleighs, and so it was often the law that at least one bell had to be affixed to the horse's head or neck to alert others of the oncoming vehicles so they could avoid being run over.  We're pretty sure you won't miss Duchess and Chyna coming!

We'll no doubt revisit sleighs and sleighbells in February, when Blue Star Equiculture hosts the Granby Regional Horse Council's annual Sleigh Rally!

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