During the snowy winters of mid-19th century Boston, young men would engage themselves in a sleigh race between Medford and Malden squares. With this, James Pierpont captured the thrill of the race in his "One Horse Open Sleigh," written around 1950.
Pierpont was something of a rogue. He abandoned his family several times, joined the Confederate army against his father's wishes, and after his first wife died, he left behind his children to take another wife who was already pregnant with his child. With this inmind, two of the lesser known verses of the song that eventually became known as "Jingle Bells" take on a sly meaning:
A day or two ago, I thought I'd take a ride. And soon Miss Fannie Bright Was seated by my side. The horse was lean and lank; Misfortune seemed his lot, He got into a drifted bank, And there, we got upsot.
Now the ground is white, Go it while you're young. Take the girls tonight And sing this sleighing song; Just bet a bob-tailed bay Two-forty as his speed. Hitch him to an open sleigh And crack, you'll take the lead.
In 1857, after being sung by a choir during a Thanksgiving church service in Medford, the song caught up around New England, then spread southwards. By the late 19th century, James Pierpont's jaunty tune was the best known carol in the country.
With its simple, repetitive melody, "Jingle Bells" is usually the first Christmas song that kids learn to sing. It's right up there with the A-B-C's as a basic building block of our education.
And to think it all began with a drag race.