Here’s the surprising history behind your favorite Christmas Carols!
What if “The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, Frosty and the “One Horse Open Sleigh” had nothing to do with Christmas?
Singing Christmas songs goes hand in hand with baking Christmas treats, listening our favorite Christmas tales, watching our favorite Christmas movies, and not only.
Like everything around this period of the year, everything has a story.
From songs that have been saved from being erased forever to not really knowing for sure where a song came from, here is the history of a few Christmas Carols you know and sing still today!
Enjoy our Advent Calendar 2022!
🎄🎅🏻 THERE ARE ONLY 21 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS 🎅🏻🎄
What we know as “Jingle Bells” actually began life as “The One Horse Open Sleigh.”
And its songwriter, James Lord Pierpont of Medford, Massachusetts, didn’t plan it as a holiday tune, but It was apparently written as a comical song and used in minstrel shows at that time.
He wrote it on Thanksgiving in 1850 for the children in his father’s Sunday School class, inspired by the annual one-horse open-sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets between Medford Square and Malden Square. He penned the racy little ditty in Simpson’s Tavern, a boardinghouse that had only one piano in town.
Well, more or less.
The date, if not the place, of the song’s composition is unlikely given that our James probably wouldn’t have waited seven years to publish it and probably he was still in California chasing gold at the time. In 1985, Savannah erected an historical marker of its own across from the Unitarian church where James was music director at the time the song was published, and possibly soon after it was written in the city, maybe in the early summer of 1857 while temporarily living in a Boston rooming house. One thing that is not in dispute is that James drew upon snowbound memories of sleigh rides and sleigh races in Massachusetts, not Georgia, when writing the song.
In any case, the song proved to be so popular, they sang it again at Christmas, and the rest is history.
The “Jingle Bells” composer was the son of a fiercely abolitionist Unitarian minister, Reverend John Pierpont, as well as a nephew of John Pierpont Morgan, the famous wealthy New York financier and founder of the Pierpont Morgan Library.
From an early age, James Lord Pierpont sought adventures far away from his family in Boston. At the age of 14, he ran off from boarding school, joined the crew of a whaling ship and spent nearly a decade at sea. When the California Gold Rush struck in 1849, he left his wife and children behind in Massachusetts while he chased riches in the West. Returning home several years later no wealthier than when he left, he departed from his family again in 1853 to become the organist at a Unitarian church in Savannah, Georgia, that was pastored by his brother. Several months after the death of his first wife in 1856, the songwriter married a daughter of Savannah’s mayor and left the two children from his first marriage back in the North with their grandfather.
While his father and brother took fiery stands against slavery, James became a staunch supporter of the Confederacy. When his brother was forced to close his church and return to the North in 1859 due to his abolitionist preaching, he remained in Savannah. When war broke out, he enlisted with the 1st Georgia Cavalry and served as a company clerk. His father, meanwhile, served on the Union side as chaplain of the 22nd Massachusetts Infantry. During the Civil War, James wrote Confederate anthems including “Strike for the South,” “We Conquer, or Die!” and “Our Battle Flag!”
The songwriter remained in Georgia after the war and lived out his final years in Florida before his death in 1893.
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 less-known verses of the song describe picking up girls, drag-racing on snow and a high-speed crash. The lyrics “go it while you’re young” in the final verse of the secular standard is hardly about a holy or silent night.
“Jingle Bells” was not very popular when it was first published in 1857. It took many years to become one of the most popular songs at Christmastime.
When did it start to become popular as a Christmas song?
That happened first with the spread of phonograph records and later on radio, which allowed the song to be heard by a nationwide audience.
“Jingle Bells” were added to the title in 1859, and the 1943 version by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters is still the most popular today.
And today, more than one hundred fifty years after it was published as “Jingle Bells,” there are millions of listeners who know and love this song, even though it makes no mention of Christmas in its lyrics.
Yet it does evoke what many people think of as a nostalgic Christmas from the past, a winter scene riding through the snow and singing…
“Jingle bells, Jingle bells,
Jingle all the way.
Oh what joy it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh!”
🎄🎅🏻 THERE ARE ONLY 21 DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS 🎅🏻🎄