"Jingle Bells" Was Originally Written for Thanksgiving

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As your family gathers around the piano tomorrow to sing all of your favorite Thanksgiving songs (you know, like Adam Sandler’s “The Thanksgiving Song” and… “The Thanksgiving Song” remix…) don’t forget the most famous Thanksgiving song of all: “Jingle Bells.”

Back in 1850 or 1851, James Lord Pierpont was perhaps enjoying a little holiday cheer at the Simpson Tavern in Medford, Massachusetts, when Medford’s famous sleigh races to neighboring Malden Square inspired him to write a tune. The story goes that Pierpont picked out the song on the piano belonging to the owner of the boarding house attached to the tavern because he wanted something to play for Thanksgiving at his Sunday school class in Boston. The resulting song wasn’t just a hit with the kids; adults loved it so much that the lyrics to “One Horse Open Sleigh” were altered slightly and used for Christmas. The song was published in 1857, when Pierpont was working at a Unitarian Church in Savannah, Georgia.

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Another bit of trivia for you: Mr. Pierpont was the uncle of banker John Pierpont Morgan, better known as J.P. Morgan. Despite this, and despite the fact that his famous holiday composition should have made him a millionaire, Pierpont struggled to make ends meet. His son even renewed the copyright on “Jingle Bells” in 1880, 13 years before his father’s death, but it was never enforced enough to produce any real income.

And I was just kidding about “The Thanksgiving Song,” of course. Though lyrics about turkey and Pilgrims aren’t as abundant as tunes for certain other holidays, they’re out there. Here are a couple:

“Over the River and Through the Woods”

They might as well crown Medford, Massachusetts the Thanksgiving capital of the United States, because the song “Over the River and Through the Woods” was born there too. Lydia Maria Child wrote the poem “A Boy’s Thanksgiving Day” about a trip to her grandfather’s house, which, yes, really does sit near the Mystic River in Medford, Massachusetts. It’s still there today, owned by Tufts University and used as a home for Tufts dignitaries (needless to say, Grandfather had a pretty nice house). The poem was later set to music and became the classic we know today.

"Alice’s Restaurant Massacre"

It doesn’t have much to do with Thanksgiving, except that the real-life events that inspired the song took place on Thanksgiving. After dumping some litter illegally on Turkey Day in 1967, Arlo Guthrie was arrested. When he later went to the induction center to find out about his draft status, Guthrie realized that he had been declared ineligible for the draft due to his lack of moral conduct. The song, which is 18+ minutes long, became a huge hit amongst war and draft protesters.

Just for good measure:

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November 23, 2011 - 2:28pm
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