On Jingle Bells

The first day of spring, just as the last snow vanishes from our northern clime, is, of course, the best time to write a column about a Christmas song. Which, as it turns out, is not a Christmas song, not really.

Here are the full and original lyrics, which I never heard before this day and hour, when I overheard my son singing them idly to himself.

I was flabbergasted by the discovery, like finding out people you knew your whole life were robots. I will add a word of explanation below:

(The Original Lyrics)

Dashing through the snow
On a one-horse open sleigh,
Over the fields we go,
Laughing all the way;
Bells on bob-tail ring,
Making spirits bright,
What fun it is to ride and sing
A sleighing song tonight

Jingle bells, jingle bells,
Jingle all the way!
O what fun it is to ride
In a one-horse open sleigh.

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 we, we got upsot.


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.


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


The story is that in 1857, songwriter Songwriter James Pierpont (who, as it happens, is the uncle of financier J.P. Morgan) one winter’s day came upon sleigh races held on the snow-packed streets of Salem, Massachusetts.

Drag racing, then as now, attracts young bravos trying to win glances from fair damsels. Youths drive too fast, whether with a one horsepower vehicle or more, and often take spills, but are not know for their solicitude toward each other when this happens … all of which explains the rather unchristmaslike tone of the nigh-unknown second and third lyrics.

The jingling bells allowed the sleigh to be heard when visibility was poor, as among among narrow streets, in the season when the normal clop of the hoof was muffled on snow. These are two-seat affairs, small and snug, perfect for warm ride on the cold day with rosy-cheeked lass eager for fresh air. A bob-tail means the horse’s tail was cropped, perhaps to prevent entangling the reins. For the record, the horse’s name is not Bob.

Miss Fanny is aptly named, for reasons that fall naturally out of the action of the song. Misfortune smites not only the horse, but also the singer of the song. Nor is this his only spill, as he is laughed at by a sleigh-rider, or perhaps a sleigh-racer, in the very next lyric.

And the song is about racing, not about sedate travel: the speed of the bay-coated horse is given as “two-forty” which means the steed can trot a mile in two minutes, forty seconds, which is a brisk clip. Nor is there a need to crack the whip and take the lead, unless there are other racers you are outpacing.

Why take such wild risks?

In the final lines, our nameless gallant urges those of age with himself, full of the vim and vinegar of youth, while the ground is white, to take a girl and to go at it.

He speaks of the athletic exertion of sleigh-racing, of course, and nothing else, because I have it on good authority that no one before the present generation spoke in double meanings or daring double entendres.

For that matter, the current generation invented sex, because your elders were constructed by the architects of the simulation in which you all are trapped — a psychological test by The Overlords to see how far your credulity can be imposed upon. We are all robots.