“Jingle Bells” is a classic song sung at Christmas time, but it didn’t start out that way.
First published in 1857, it was written by James Lord Pierpont, to be sung on Thanksgiving — not Christmas. There is some question as to where it was written — Massachusetts and Georgia both are plausible. Medford, Mass., where sleigh races were popular in the 1800s, claims itself as the birthplace of the song. There is a plaque at 19 High Street, the site of the former Simpson Tavern, where Pierpont was said to have penned the ditty in 1850.
The original title of the song was “One Horse Open Sleigh,” but that was changed to “Jingle Bells, or the One Horse Open Sleigh” when it was reprinted in 1859.
Astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford, orbiting Earth on Gemini 6 on OnDec. 16, 1965, made “Jingle Bells” the first song heard from space (video below). They played it on a harmonica with accompanying bells after sending this message back to Earth:
We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in a polar orbit. He’s in a very low trajectory…I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit….”
The harmonica and bells that Schirra and Stafford used for their broadcast are now in the Smithsonian Institution.