Now and forever associated with wintry Christmas cheer, “Jingle Bells” 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.
BONUS FACTOID: “Jingle Bells” holds the distinction of being the first song broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the crew of Gemini 6 reported seeing a “red-suited” astronaut in lunar orbit before serenading Mission Control with a spirited take on the song (complete with bells and a harmonica that they smuggled onboard their spacecraft).