Old enough to remember ‘Jingle Bells?’

Published 12:43 am Saturday, November 15, 2014

While thumbing through a couple of song books, I began to wonder about the origin of some of the hymns and secular songs we enjoy singing during this glorious Christmas season of expectation and preparation for the birth of Jesus.

Most of us love the beautiful hymn, “Away in a Manger,” which appeals to both children and adults. Did you know there is some mystery as to who really wrote it? It was commonly known as (Martin) “Luther’s Cradle Song,” yet extensive research revealed there were two unknown writers. According to Robert J. Morgan’s book, “Then Sings My Soul, Book 2,” the important thing is that generations of the world’s children have gone to sleep praying the lyrics: “I love Thee, Lord Jesus; look down from the sky, And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh.”

The founder and senior editor of Scribner’s Magazine is credited with writing “There’s a Song in the Air.” The four stanzas were published in a book that were later included in a collection of Sunday school songs. An amateur musician, Professor Karl Pomeroy, composed the tune. It is one of my favorite Christmas hymns.

The words of “What Child is This?” are excerpts from a long poem by William Chatterton Dix, an English insurance agent. The melody is “Greensleeves, a British ballad.

“Angels We Have Heard on High,” a truly beautiful hymn of praise, was a French carol from the 1700s. This song proclaimed by the angels the joyous news that Jesus was born.

A French wine merchant, Placide Clappeau, wrote the poem that included the words “O Holy Night” in 1847. The music composer was Adolphe Charles Adam, who was a music professor at the Paris Conservatory. John Dwight, a Unitarian minister, translated the hymn into English.

Jingle Bells,” was written by James Lord Pierpont, but there are two stories as to where. A plaque in Medford, Mass., commemorates the “birthplace” of “Jingle Bells,” and claims Pierpont wrote the song there in 1850, at what was once the Simpson Tavern. Other sources claim that he wrote it for a Thanksgiving program at a Savannah, Ga., church, and it was so well accepted, it was also sung on Christmas day. The original title was “One Horse Open Sleigh.” The song gained popularity rapidly.

What does “Jingle Bells” have to do with a harmonica and some little bells on display at the Smithsonian Museum? “Jingle Bells” became the first Christmas song performed in outer space. On Dec. 16, 1965, astronauts Walter (Wally) Schirra Jr. and Thomas Stafford, aboard Gemini 6, were just about ready to re-enter earth’s atmosphere. They reported to Mission Control that they saw an object moving from north to south. As the conversation continued, Schirra said that he saw a command module and eight smaller modules piloted by someone wearing a red suit. Then the ground controllers heard strains of “Jingle Bells,” performed on the harmonica by Schirra, accompanied by bells. Are you old enough to remember this?