Jingle, bells!

sleigh

There’s one thing I always wondered endlessly as a kid at this time of year: who the heck is Fannie Bright, and why is she seated by my side?

The popular song “Jingle Bells” was written in 1850 by James Pierpont, the nephew of John Pierpont Morgan – yes, that J.P. Morgan, the well-known financier. He was a Unitarian minister in Medford, Mass., where the song was reportedly written, and he was inspired by the sleigh races held in that town. It is speculated that it was not originally a Christmas song, but was written for Thanksgiving (as was “Over the River and Through the Woods,” whose author, Lydia Marie Child, was curiously also from Medford, Mass. Sleighs were a big deal in this town!). The original title was “One Horse Open Sleigh,” and the reworked title, “Jingle Bells,” is actually a command (which should include a comma, as in jingle, bells!), not a type of bell. These bells are tied to a “bob tail,” a reference to a work horse’s docked tail. As for Miss Fannie Bright – a curious name if ever there was one – no one but Pierpont seems to know for sure who she was, if she was a real person at all. Given that he was a minister, it is doubtful that the name is a bawdy pun. One thing is certain: she is not Fanny Brice, the famous Ziegfeld Follies girl, as is sometimes mistakenly sung (like by me, as a child). Brice wouldn’t be born for another forty years.

By the way, I have a similar curiosity about Parson Brown of “Winter Wonderland” fame. Perhaps Fannie knows him.

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