This Popular Christmas Song Was Actually Written For Thanksgiving

Well this is news to us.

Red Jingle Bells over Sheet Music
Photo: Brasil2/Getty Images

We have some shocking news for you. The beloved Christmas carol sung cheerfully by millions every holiday season, "Jingle Bells," wasn't actually intended to be a Christmas carol at all. That's not even the original name of the song! Shocked? We were. There are few songs that immediately trigger feelings of yuletide cheer more than that catchy tune. But, as Reader's Digest reported and Snopes confirmed, the jolly jingle was meant for an entirely different holiday—Thanksgiving!

When Was "Jingle Bells" Written?

According to Reader's Digest, James Lord Pierpont wrote the song that he called "One Horse Open Sleigh" for his father's Sunday school class to perform on Thanksgiving. It also appears that he wasn't inspired by Santa and his famous sleigh pulled by magical reindeer. Nope, legend has it that he was inspired by watching sleigh races in Medford, Massachusetts. One theory is that the song was popular, so the children sang it again at Christmastime, thus associating it with Christmas. Another theory presumes that the only association with the holiday is the fact that the song talks about snow.

While historians are fairly certain the tune was written in the 1850s, no one is sure when or where he wrote it. It could have been right there in Medford after the sleigh races. Or he could have waited and written the famous song after he moved down South to Savannah, Georgia. We only know for certain that the song was published in 1857.

Why We Sing "Jingle Bells" Today

It may not have been Pierpont's original intent, but the secular song is now a staple for Christmas carolers around the world. It has been recorded many times but it was Bing Crosby's jazzy 1943 version that cemented "Jingle Bells" place in popular culture and Christmas celebrations for eternity.

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  1. The one horse open sleigh - the story of “Jingle Bells.”

  2. Boston University. Jingle bells: the untold history. 

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