James Lord Pierpont, an organist from Savannah, Georgia, first performed a song he wrote, “The One Horse Open Sleigh,” at his church’s Thanksgiving concert. The song was re-published in 1857 and given the title of today. Neither version made any impression on the public—it took several generations for “Jingle Bells” to become a holiday favorite. Later arrangements of the song made minor alterations to the lyrics and introduced a new chorus melody (the original chorus melody is now better known for its association with a slightly later piece, Benjamin Hanby’s “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas”). In this slightly modified form, “Jingle Bells” became one of the most popular and most recognizable songs ever written.
“Jingle Bells” also holds the distinction of being the first song broadcast from space. On December 16, 1965, the crew of Gemini 6 reported seeing a “red-suited” astronaut (in “polar orbit”) before serenading Mission Control with a spirited (and charmingly tuneless) performance with bells and a harmonica they smuggled onboard their spacecraft.