'Jingle Bells' Eyebrow-Arching History And Creation

Turns out the guy who wrote about how fun it is to ride and sing some sleigh song also wrote Confederate anthems.
'Jingle Bells' Eyebrow-Arching History And Creation

Well, it's that time of the year again, people. A time when going out to the shops comes with that extra bit of dread because good golly gosh, whatever holiday tune/earworm will we have to wrestle from our heads for the rest of the day? No one likes to find that out.

There's quite a definitive list of songs we've collectively decided we just don't want to hear because every damn shop in the goddamn world decided to play them ad nauseum (looking at you, "Last Christmas"). Making this list of 'OMG Quit It!' songs is the jolly old classic about dashing through the snow in a one-horse open sleigh because ... that apparently sounds like fun to some people? Why would anyone want to be doing that? Are we dashing through heaps of compact ice crystals because we're fleeing a manger heist? That's really the only thing we can think of that'll have us writer-types laughing all the way.

And before you say, "Oh, come on, it's a kids song," is it really? This lesser-sung part of the lyrics surely puts that statement into question:

Now the ground is white,

Go it while you're young.

Take the girls tonight,

Sing this sleighing song.

Get a bobtailed bay,

Two forty for his speed,

And hitch him to an open sleigh,

And you will take the lead.

Yeah, that sounds more like the advice of some old-timey pick-up artist about impressing young women by taking them out to go drag racing in the cold of night. It's the musical version of Fast and the Furious, with sleighs. 

You may think us strange for being confused over a song that wants us to go gallivanting through the snow all singing and shit, but our confusion is justified because this Christmas tune doesn't even have anything to do with Christmas. At best, it's a winter song. For the North, at least — Lord knows why the southern hemisphere has to listen to all this jingling this time of year.

The head-scratching holiday standard was written by composer James Lord Pierpont — the would-be uncle of J.P. Morgan — during the 19th century. Yeah, we're already not the biggest fans of this evangelical family in general. Neither was Pierpont, it seems, but in a different, more terrible way. The man was constantly distancing himself from those family members who were anti-slavery, unlike him, and at one point, he even left his first wife and children behind to start a new family in Savannah, Georgia, where he was also to be the organist at the local church. His God must've been so very proud.

And if you think that maybe there's some redeeming factor coming any second now, then think again, for the guy who wrote "Jingle Bells" was, of course, a staunch supporter of the Confederacy. During the Civil War, he signed on and served as the company clerk in the 1st Georgia Cavalry, and the guy who wrote about how fun it is to ride and sing some sleigh song in the snow also wrote Confederate anthems like "Strike for the South," "We Conquer, or Die!" and "Our Battle Flag!"

Fabulous. Anyway, back to how we ended up being tortured once a year by this song about "bells on bobtails" that, in modern times, sounds more like the title of your cousin's viral OnlyFans video than a kids Christmas song. According to historical reports, it seems the song was first performed during a Thanksgiving church service. More surprising and also alarming is that it may have first been performed in blackface by a troupe of white men who called themselves "Ordway's Aeolians."

So yeah. It's really enough to make us gladly listen to Mariah's Christmas song all day.

Zanandi is ruining Christmas on Twitter, too. Follow her.

Top Image: Jim Henderson/Wiki Commons


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