‘Jingle Bells’ for Thanksgiving: The real story behind the song

Lindsay Rausch makes the startling discovery that this beloved Christmas anthem was actually written for Thanksgiving.

Photos: Wikimedia Commons

From Lindsay:

Christmas music is not the same without Christmas carols; but what about poor little Thanksgiving? Why can’t Thanksgiving have its own carols as well?


Turns out that “Jingle Bells” was not actually written for Christmas. According to this 2012 TIME article, the song was originally written for a Thanksgiving celebration:

In 1857, James Lord Pierpont, an organist at a Unitarian church in Savannah, Georgia, published the music and lyrics to a song he had written, “The One Horse Open Sleigh.” The song was first performed during a Thanksgiving concert at the church—but many maintain that it was written as early as 1850, when Pierpont lived in the village of Medford, Massachusetts. (In fact, a longstanding, and rather civil war, has been waged between these two towns over the “real” birthplace of the song.)

The song was re-published in 1857 and was given the title we all know today. Neither version made any impression on the public—it took several generations for “Jingle Bells” to become a holiday favorite.

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O’er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtail ring’
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight!
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.

Happy Thanksgiving, and Go Riding!

Lindsay Rausch learned to ride at a young age from her mom who had been a trainer and horsemanship instructor in a previous life. Lindsay has always been a western trail rider, and even though she has not owned a horse of her own she has always looked for any chance to get a leg in the saddle. She is currently setting up a 10-acre farm for cattle and horses. Lindsay would love to hear questions that readers have about the western world that she could research for the Horse Nation.


Lindsay with a 6-month-old orphaned foal