The Forgotten History of 'Jingle Bells'

By Dan O'Donnell

December 1, 2021

The world has been dashing through the snow for more than 150 years now, but few realize that one of the most popular and enduring Christmas carols was actually written for Thanksgiving. In 1857, James Lord Pierpont published a song he called "One Horse Open Sleigh" as an ode to a fun and romantic Thanksgiving date. 

108 years later, on December 16th, 1965, the tune made world history (or, perhaps, more accurately "out-of-this-world" history).

During a call to Mission Control, Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra decided to play a little prank. Stafford claimed to see "[a]n object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit.... Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon.... You just might let me pick up that thing.... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit.

At that moment, Stafford and Schirra pulled out a harmonica and some bells they had smuggled aboard and began to play "Jingle Bells."

With that, the Christmas tune that was actually written for Thanksgiving became the first song ever broadcast from space.

Click on the player below to listen to the complete series "The Forgotten History of Our Favorite Christmas Carols" and be sure to subscribe!

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