The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Jingle Bells

Original Title: "The One Horse Open Sleigh"

Words & Music: James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893), copyright 1857, 1859.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / XML

Dedication:
"To John P. Ordway"

1. Dashing 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.

Chorus:
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.

2. A day or two ago
I tho't I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fannie Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seem'd his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And we - we got up sot. Chorus

3. 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. Chorus

4. 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. Chorus

At left: "Trotters on the Snow," by Thomas Worth, from Harper's Weekly, January 23, 1869.  This was what a One-Horse Open Sleigh was all about: it was drag racing on the snow in a sleigh, powered by one horse! There are additional details about the origins of this song in Pierpont's biographical note.

 

Editor's Notes

1. John P. Ordway was a contemporary composer and lyricist who had at least two hits in the 1850s: "Home Again" (1851) and "Twinkling Stars Are Laughing, Love" (1855). Copies are available at the Library of Congress, Greatest Hits: 1850-1860 (accessed August 7, 2007).

2. One version has an asterisk at the beginning of the chorus: "Accompanied by jingling glasses."

3. Here's a pair of interesting coincidences. Lydia Maria Child, author of "Over the River and Through the Woods" and James Lord Pierpont, author of "Jingle Bells" ("One Horse Open Sleigh") both had ties to Medford, Massachusetts, and both were Unitarians.

4. The modern melody and some of the lyrics are different than that originally written by Mr. Pierpont, especially the chorus.  These scans of "The One Horse Open Sleigh" are from the U.S. Library of Congress:

MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

Source: Library of Congress, Rare Book and Special Collections Division,
America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
.
(American Memory, Performing Arts-Music)

See A Garritan Community Christmas for an MP3 of this carol:
Jingle Bells, Ron Klaren

Editor's Question:

In 2003, I wrote: Who was Miss Fanny (Frances?) Bright?  Was she more than a figment of Mr. Pierpont's imagination? If not, she presumably lived in Massachusetts or Connecticut (possibly Georgia?) in the mid 1800s.

On August 7 and 8, 2007, I received emails from Steven Dhuey, who has perhaps shed some light on this question. He wrote:

According to the 1860 U.S. Census, a Miss Fanny Bright, age 11 years, lived in Enfield (post office Thompsonville), Hartford County, Connecticut, the daughter of Benjamin (a butcher, born in England) and Rachel Bright (born in Ireland). Fanny was born in Connecticut.

Her real first name may have been Rachel. The same family appears in the 1850 U.S. Census, in Enfield, and the one-year-old daughter is Rachel Bright.

Fanny is not with the Bright family in the 1870 U.S. Census, and so may have been married by then.

The Fanny Bright in Connecticut was one of only two records of a Fanny Bright in the 1860 U.S. Census. The other was a 40-year-old woman in Palermo, New York. But of course "Fanny" is often the nickname for another name, such as Frances. The 1860 U.S. Census has 13 women named Frances Bright (but none in MA, CT, or GA).

I don't know if this Fanny Bright has any relation to the Fanny Bright mentioned in "Jingle Bells", though. Or Fanny Bright could have been a name the songwriter just made up.

This carol was copyright in 1857 (although we don't know the date of composition). In that year, this Miss Fanny Bright would have been eight years old. As Mr. Dhuey noted, we don't know if this young lady was the one mentioned in this song, or, indeed, if this "Miss Fanny Bright" was just a name created by Mr. Pierpont.

My thanks to Mr. Dhuey for writing!

Jingle Bells” From Gemini 6

Ten days before Christmas, Dec. 15, 1965, NASA celebrated as spaceships Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 successfully completed a non-docking orbital rendezvous, an historic first. The next morning, as Gemini 6 was preparing to re-enter Earth's atmosphere, Mission Control in Houston heard a cryptic message from astronaut Thomas P. Stafford:

"We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit.... Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon.... You just might let me pick up that thing.... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit."

Stafford later related that "I could hear the voices at Mission Control getting tense when I talked about sighting something else up there with us.”

Harmonica and Bells from Gemini 6But moments later, ground controllers heard the strains of “Jingle Bells,” played on a miniature harmonica and accompanied by five miniature sleigh bells.

Then, after we finished the song,” Stafford continued, “[Mission Control's] Elliot relaxed and just said, 'You're too much.'"

Photo Right: The first musical instruments played in space. Photo by Mark Avino / National Air and Space Museum, S.I.

The plot had been hatched in the weeks before the mission by astronaut Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr., according to Stafford. "He could play the harmonica, and we practiced two or three times before we took off, but of course we didn't tell the guys on the ground....We never considered singing, since I couldn't carry a tune in a bushel basket."

Gemini 6 Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford (left), Pilot and Walter M. Schirra Jr., Command Pilot, during suiting up exercises at Cape Kennedy on October 22, 1965. Credit: NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC). URL: http://nix.larc.nasa.gov/info;jsessionid=o3dgkdjes55r?id=S65-56151&orgid=8

The harmonica was Hohner's tiny four-hole, eight-note “Little Lady.” The accompaniment was five small bells, tied on a blue string. The harmonica and bells were the first musical instruments ever played in space, according to curator Margaret A. Weitekamp. The items were donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum by Schirra and Stafford in 1967. Before he donated it to the Smithsonian, Schirra reported that he had "retested the harmonica and it performs quite well."

For more information about the first Christmas carol played from outer space, see Owen Edwards, “Christmas Cards,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2005; http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Christmas_Cards.html.

Note:

Although the Hohner company still produces the “Little Lady,” I could find no “Wally Schirra Commemorative Model” at their site on March 8th, 2008. http://www.hohnerusa.com/?sprache=en

Wally Schirra died May 3, 2007, at the age of 84. The was the only astronaut to fly in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. He was survived by only two of the seven original Mercury Astronauts, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. He was the recipient of three Honorary Doctorates.

Sources:

Owen Edwards, “Christmas Cards,” Smithsonian Magazine, December 2005; http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/Christmas_Cards.html.

NASA Johnson Space Center (NASA-JSC). URL: http://nix.larc.nasa.gov/info;jsessionid=o3dgkdjes55r?id=S65-56151&orgid=8

Harmonica, Gemini 6. The Smithsonian. http://collections.nasm.si.edu/code/emuseum.asp?profile=objects&newstyle=single&quicksearch=A19670148000

Bells, Gemini 6. The Smithsonian. http://collections.nasm.si.edu/code/emuseum.asp?profile=objects&newstyle=single&quicksearch=A19670148001

Wikipedia, “Gemini 6A” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemini_6A

Espie Estrella, “Jingle Bells - History of Christmas Carols” http://musiced.about.com/od/christmasnewyeararticles/qt/jinglebells.htm

NASA, “Walter Schirra Biography.”
http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/schirra-wm.html

NASA, “Walter Schirra, 1923-2007.”
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/walter_schirra.html

NASA, “Thomas Stafford Biography.” http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/stafford-tp.html

All web sites accessed March 5-8, 2008.

Ron Clancy, author of the Christmas Classics series of Christmas carol books, has now created a number of "The Story Behind The Music" YouTube videos recounting the histories of numerous Christmas carols, including this carol.

The Stories Behind The Music Of
Jingle Bells

 

For links to all of Clancy's carol videos, go to
Christmas Classics Videos

I do not have any financial or other relationship with Ron Clancy, The Christmas Classics, or YouTube.

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