"Jingle Bells": It's really all about babes and glory

One of the most popular winter songs of all time, "Jingle Bells" was written by James Pierpont of Savannah, Georgia in 1857. Although today many people think of the song as a Christmas carol, it makes no mention of Christmas or anything Christmas-related, and was actually written to be performed at a Thanksgiving celebration.

The original title of the song was "The One Horse Open Sleigh." As is clear from the lyrics of the song, the one-horse open sleigh was clearly the hot rod convertible of the era. Like a modern-day Mustang, Camaro, or Corvette, it had two main uses: picking up hot girls, and drag racing, both of which are described in the song. Pierpont had grown up in Boston, Massachusetts, and the racing allusions refer to the popular one-horse sleigh races which were held on Salem Street in downtown Boston in the early 1800s.

The first verse and the chorus describe the unalloyed joy of racing at top speed in one of these souped-up muscle-sleighs:

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go
Laughing all the way
Bells on bobtail1 ring
Making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight!


Jingle bells, jingle bells,2
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!

The second verse then describes the singer using his awesome sleigh to pick up the hottest girl in town, with humorous results:

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.3

The third verse is less humorous than just sort of sad and pathetic (and is thus often skipped nowadays), but it does demonstrate that just like the drivers of modern-day sport scars, the drivers of the one-horse open sleighs were generally douchebags:

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.

The fourth and final verse then brings all the elements of the song together into a stirring conclusion! All you arrogant, young douchebags out there, take heed! First, buy yourself a one-horse open sleigh babe-magnet. Then, use it to pick up a hot girl, or even more than one! Finally, buy a fast horse and win the one-horse sleigh race! AWESOME!!!

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young,
Take the girls tonight
and sing this sleighing song;
Just get a bobtailed bay
Two forty4 as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead.5


1. "Bobtail" refers to the practice of cutting a horse's tail short and tying it up so that it won't get caught in the harness or interfere with the reins.

2. Evidently the word "jingle" in this famous chorus was actually an imperative verb, commanding the bells to jingle. Before this song became popular there was no such thing as a "jingle bell" as a special kind of bell - they were simply called "sleigh bells."

3. "Upsot" is an archaic past tense of "upset."

4. This refers to the horse being able to run a mile in 2:40. This is a speed of 22.5 miles an hour which is very fast for a horse pulling a sleigh!

5. I've recorded the modern lyrics here. The original, 1857 lyrics were slightly lamer and more old-fashioned-sounding. Also, the original chorus, as written, sounded more like a baroque harpsichord piece, and actually followed the same chord progression as Pachelbel's Canon. It's kind of bizarre. Trust me, the current version is much, much better.