Christmas trees, the crib, turkey, endless shopping, Santa Claus and, of course, that song. Jingle Bells is the Christmas anthem par excellence. As comforting as a glass of mulled wine or a mince pie, it had, nevertheless, a rocky start before it became a beloved Christmas classic. We've gathered together some of the more intriguing pieces of trivia around this famous tune, see how many you've heard about.
Authorship not clear
It is claimed that James Lord Pierpoint wrote the song at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts in 1850. Though he copyrighted the song in September 1857, however, he may not actually have written it, perhaps merely adapting it from an existing piece. It is certainly true that the song is heavenly indebted to other ‘sleighing songs’ of the period, many of the lyrics being similar and the melody rather clichéd.
Not Written for Christmas
The song was not originally intended for Christmas, possibly being written as a Thanksgiving song for a Sunday school choir or even as a drinking song. It only gradually became associated with Christmas during the course of the 19th century, becoming a firm Christmas favorite by the beginning of the twentieth.
Different title, different chorus
The original version of Jingle Bells is quite a bit different to the version we know today. The original title was 'The One Horse Open Sleigh.' The first two verses and chorus lyrics are largely the same, though third verse ‘Now the ground is white’ is a later addition. The biggest difference, however, is in the chorus, which has a different melody:
This melody, arguably better than the modern version, seems to have fallen out of use fairly rapidly - the earliest recording, dating from 1898 and made on an Edison cylinder, uses the more familiar version:
It is not clear why the melody was changed, or by whom.
Pierpoint in Space
On December 16th, 1965, astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra reported seeing an unusual object, a satellite in a ‘polar orbit...travelling North to South.’ Schirra added ‘Stand by, he's trying to signal something.’ They then broke out in a rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ performed on instruments they had smuggled aboard, a prank that is believed to be the first human musical performance from outer space:
Parodies and covers
‘Jingle Bells’ has penetrated popular culture around the world, being translated into many languages, covered by popular artists and subjected to many parodies.
One of the most familiar of these parodies, is the alternative lyrics ‘Jingle Bells, Batman Smells’, which appeared in the episode of ‘The Simpsons,’ sung by Bart Simpson:
The lyrics have also been adapted to other climates, as in this Australian version:
And the Muppets performed a version with Andrea Bocelli:
The melody has even been adapted to other seasons, a minor keyed version being used for Halloween, with the lyrics ‘Pumpkin Bells':