“Jingle Bells” is one of the most recognizable songs in American history, and the jaunty tune is as much a part of the Christmas season as twinkling lights and shiny ornaments. Take a closer look at the lyrics, though, and an interesting detail emerges: The song doesn’t mention the holiday at all. That’s because “Jingle Bells” wasn’t actually written for Christmas.
Even with its undeniable ubiquity, “Jingle Bells” has a rather murky history. We know that in 1857, the song’s composer, James Pierpont, copyrighted the tune under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” while living in Savannah, Georgia. But various theories about the song’s meaning have surfaced over the years: One suggests it was simply written in the style of other popular sleighing songs at the time; another says the song was written for Thanksgiving. A plaque in Pierpont’s childhood hometown of Medford, Massachusetts, even claims “Jingle Bells” was composed in a local tavern, years before its copyright date. (Research into the latter two claims has concluded that neither origin story is likely.) “Jingle Bells” features no direct mention of any holiday, nor even the month of December, but the song nonetheless became a Christmas staple following its release. In December 1943, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters released a record featuring renditions of “Jingle Bells” and “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town,” cementing the song’s status as an inescapable Christmas classic.