Songs of Christmas…Jingle Bells


This is part 10 of an Advent/Christmas series titled “Songs of Christmas.” For other parts of the series see the index. The index also contains the introduction for the series.

There is nothing about Christmas here! Not one word. Not only that, “Jingle Bells” was never intended to be a Christmas song at all! In fact, though the song speaks of things of winter, it was intended to celebrate the quintessential FALL holiday, Thanksgiving. As I reflect back on the lyrics, I don’t think t says anything about Thanksgiving either.

When we think about Christmas and the things associated with it, we think of Christmas trees, Santa, presents, decorating, baking, shepherds, angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, to name only a few. None of them are present in this song.

From an early age, James S. Pierpont had talent. As a fairly young boy, he not only sang in church he also played the organ. As he got older, he continued to assist his father (a Unitarian pastor) with the music program at his church in Medford, Massachusetts.

Sometime around 1840 the congregation was planning their Thanksgiving service. It was a big deal at the time because in New England during that period, Thanksgiving was the biggest holiday, not Christmas. Pierpont was given the assignment to write a special song for Thanksgiving.

As Pierpont worked on the song he watched out the window on a bitterly cold day, he observed boys racing sleds on a nearby hill. He bundled up and went out to watch. It wasn’t long before the day’s winner was “crowned” and Pierpont was standing beside the fire warming himself. He thought about many things as he stood before the fire. He thought back to his own childhood and his own sled races and sleigh rides and even sleigh races. As he stood remembering back, a tune started to form in his head.

Pierpont bundled back up again and headed back outside, this time headed for the home of Mrs. Otis Waterman who owned the only piano in town. When Pierpont stood on her porch she was familiar with him and immediately knew what he wanted. She showed him in and found his way to the piano. Mrs. Waterman stood and listened for a while before saying to Pierpont, “That’s quite a jingle you have there.”

Pierpont finished both the tune and the lyrics and taught them to his choir. The choir then sang them at the Thanksgiving service. The song was such a hit, people asked Pierpont to have the choir sing the song again for the Christmas service. Per the request, he and the choir did indeed perform the song for Christmas. It was then the song became associated with Christmas.

It didn’t take long for the song to catch on around Medford. As people began moving to other parts of the country they carried “One Horse Open Sleigh” (the name Medford first gave the song) with them. And, because it was heard by many, for the first time at the Christmas service, it was introduced in other places first as a Christmas song.

Pierpont himself moved to Georgia, he took the song with him. He found a publisher for the song in 1857. Then, in 1864, The Salem Evening News did a story about the song and it was then that Pierpont realized he had written something special. It didn’t take long after that for “Jingle Bells” to become the most popular caroling song in the country.

Today jingle bells are everywhere. They are in our decorations for the season and so much more. And, they are firmly entrenched as a song of Christmas. That’s not bad for a “Thanksgiving” song that isn’t really about Thanksgiving or Christmas!

Have a blessed day in the Lord.

Joy and Peace,

Copyright 2016, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved


Collins, Ace, Stories Behind the Best Loved Songs of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Collins, Andrew, Stories Behind the Greatest Hits of Christmas, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Gant, Andrew, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2015.

Osbeck, Kenneth W. Joy to the World: The Stories Behind Your Favorite Christmas Carols, Grand Rapids: Kregal, 1999.


Spirita Spiro (Esperanza for "Spirit's Breath) is rather new in my life. But the blog is not. I began writing a blog several years ago. It lived under the title, "The Pastor Ponders." Over the years I have tried several different names and "The Pastor Ponders" always seemed to fit best. I am trying again with Spirita Spiro. For 27 years I was a full-time pastor in the United Methodist Church. This year, August 2018, I semi-retired (I can't actually retire quite yet) and began teaching social studies. It is something I have always wanted to do and if I was going to do this, I needed to make it sooner rather than later. So, I made the move. I thought with the career change there also needed to be a name change to the blog and other things, such as spiritual direction. Spirita Spiro is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. I often share what I am thinking with my dog "Bishop," but he keeps his thoughts to himself. He will even go to sleep sometimes while I am sharing my thoughts with him. The truth is, if it doesn't involve getting his ears scratched, his belly rubbed or some kind of treat, he really doesn't care. I will say this for him, he never argues with me or tells me I am wrong. So, I decided to share some of my thoughts with whoever might come across this blog in their ramblings around the Internet. I live with my wife Cindy and our little dog in Lufkin, Texas. I spent the past 27 years as a full-time United Methodist pastor. Most recently I served as pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sweeny, Texas. I have also served United Methodist congregations throughout East Texas including rural Madison County (Elwood UMC), Lovelady (First UMC) and Kennard (Center Hill UMC), Canton (First UMC), rural Smith County (Mt. Sylvan UMC and Union Chapel UMC), Grapeland (First UMC), Tyler (Pleasant Retreat UMC), Santa Fe (Aldersgate UMC), Freeport (First UMC) and Oyster Creek (Oyster Creek UMC), Diboll (First UMC), and now Sweeny (First UMC). My wife Cindy and I have been married for over 40 years. We have two grown sons. Wayne and his wife Nikki and all our grandsons (Kaleb, Noah, and Jaxon) live in Southern California. Christopher and his wife Morgan and both our granddaughters (Jenna and Natalie) live in Tyler Texas. I enjoy preaching and all aspects of preaching from research to writing to the actual preaching event. I also love writing, reading, playing the guitar as well as a bit of drawing. I have spent quite a bit of time over the past two years working with paracord on various projects, mostly prayer ropes I usually give away. I sing bass with a local barbershop chorus called The Coastalaires. I have also recently begun doing a little wood carving. I also enjoy playing with Bishop, something he likes a great deal better than listening to my thoughts. I hold an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Business Data Processing, specializing in Microcomputers from San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a minor in History from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, a Master of Divinity from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX and a Doctor of Ministry from Carolina University of Theology. When I was a student at Carolina, the school was in Iron Station North Carolina. They have since relocated to Manassas Virginia (Yeah, go figure, a school named Carolina geographically in Virginia). This blog is mostly devotional writing, but there are other things here too. Just about every week I will either post my sermon manuscript or a video of the worship service. On occasion, I will post something I see in society. Occasionally I write a short story, a poem, or a song and will post it here too. I will say this, my motivations for writing this blog are really selfish. I write it to get what I am thinking out of my head and onto something a bit more permanent. They say, after all, once something is on the internet it never really goes away. Still, I hope you enjoy reading it. And, should you desire, you can one-up Bishop and actually tell me what you think. Who knows, it might generate a bit of discussion between you and me and anyone else who might make their way here. With Joy and Thankfulness, Keith Sweeny, Texas May 2018

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