The Jingle Bells Lyrics Are Actually Pretty Creepy

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mariah carey mean girls christmasUniversal Music Group/Paramount Pictures

Come December, your ears will be ambushed by a multitude of yuletide jingles, like it or not. 

Maybe Mariah Carey is all you want to hear under your Christmas tree, or Chris Rea driving home your favourite festive anthem? Perhaps you’d rather celebrate Christmas In Hollis with Run DMC?

You might crave melancholic, un-PC merriment courtesy of The Pogues and their Fairytale Of New York, or maybe you just want The Darkness and their blasted bells to end?

Whatever your preference or how strong your protests, there’s one song you won’t be able to escape this season.

The popular festive theme tune Jingle Bells with its catchy little melody and inoffensive lyrics is a family favourite.

And with its copyright expiring a while back it’s in the public domain, which means it’ll be used on every TV ad, every viral video, and every vlog published from now until forever.

It’s been reworked and sampled and bastardised so many times – by the likes of Basshunter and Regina George, no less – the original is barely recognisable.

But it isn’t actually about Christmas – and it’s actually kind of dark – and we’ve all been living a yuletide lie.

The ditty was originally written and composed by American James Lord Pierpont and published under the title One Horse Open Sleigh in the autumn of 1857.

It was intended to be sung over the traditional – but problematic – holiday of Thanksgiving, but was adopted for Christmas merriment that same year.

Jingle Bells was then often used as a drinking song at parties, as people would jingle and clink the ice in their glasses as they sang.

So, how about those catchy lyrics?

The original words prove this particular ‘sleighing song’ slayed – but not necessarily in the good way – long before Beyonce did.

It goes a little something like this:

Dashing through the snow / In a one-horse open sleigh / O’er 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!

Then, the bit we all know and love:

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

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

Although less well known than the opening, the remaining verses depict high-speed youthful fun.

In the second verse, the narrator takes a ride with a girl and loses control of the 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 then we got upsot.

In the next, often-skipped, verse he falls out of the sleigh and a rival laughs at him:

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.

It’s in the last verse things get a little strange.

The lyrics advise picking up some girls, and taking off at full speed:

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

After all, Christmas is a time to ‘go [at] it while you’re young’… Apparently?

We all know semantics in songs age pretty quickly, especially when they’re about a time of year so traditional it’s almost archaic in our millennial, proudly snowflake-filled eyes.

But why oh why did it have to happen to Jingle Bells?

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