History of Christmas Carols: Jingle Bells

Learn the History Behind the Popular and Upbeat Holiday Song

Close up of sleigh bells
Paul Whitmarsh/Getty Images

Belting out Christmas carols is one of the best ways to get your family and friends into holiday cheer. And if you are a fan of Christmas songs, then you definitely know Jingle Bells. But while you may know this simple and fun tune like the back of your hand, do you know the history behind the song?

Here's a quick explanation of the origins and development of Jingle Bells plus some fun facts about the song.

The One Horse Open Sleigh

Jingle Bells was originally titled The One Horse Open Sleigh. James Lord Pierpont (1822-1893), an American composer, songwriter, and organist born in New England, wrote the melody and lyrics in 1857.

The One Horse Open Sleigh was meant for a Thanksgiving program at a church in Savannah, Georgia where Pierpont was an organist. The song was so well accepted that it was again sung on Christmas day and since then it became one of the most popular Christmas carols.

Lyric Modification

There are some lyrical difference between the original The One Horse Open Sleigh and the Jingle Bells we know today. It is speculated that the lyrics had to be changed because they were considered too racy at the time to be performed by children's church choirs. This verse is an example of the so-called racy original lyrics: "Go it while you’re young, Take the girls to night".

Santa in Space

On December 16, 1965, astronauts aboard Gemini 6, Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford, played a prank on Mission Control.

They said they saw some kind of UFO stating that the pilot was "wearing a red suit." They then played "Jingle Bells" on a harmonica (Hohner's Little Lady model) backed by sleigh bells. Both instruments are now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and considered the first musical instruments played in space.

Excerpt of Lyrics

Dashing through the snow
In a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bob tails ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight

Oh, jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh
Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way
Oh, what fun it is to ride
In a one horse open sleigh

Music Sheets: Free beginner sheet music for ​piano