Sleigh bells ring
Are you listening?
In the lane
Snow is glistening
A beautiful sight
We’re happy tonight
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland is one of several songs featuring sleigh bells that has nothing to do with holiday celebrations. The focus is on winter chill and sleigh bells. The Sleigh Ride Song, another example, was composed by Leroy Anderson during a heat wave in July 1946. Ah, the power of suggestion.
Sleigh bells, which may or may not be worn by Santa’s reindeer, have a long history as a symbol of wealth and status, good luck charms to prevent evil and disease, and a warning to bystanders that a sleigh is near. The latter is probably the most important feature of sleigh bells, because sleighs are both quiet in the snow and unable to stop quickly.
In fact, Massachusetts General Law Annotated, Part I, Table XIV, Chapter 89, Section 3 stipulates that: No person shall travel on a way with a sleigh or sled drawn by a horse, unless there are at least three bells attached to some part of the harness.
The Sleigh Bell, more properly a Crotal, has a ball or spherical shape with one sloth, an inferior clapper, or metal ball, and small holes or a slit to emit the sound.
William Barton opened the first American bell factory in East Hampton, Connecticut in 1810. In 1839 bell factories in East Hampton produced 1400 bells. Demand increased until in 1850, the factories produced almost a million bells.
Jingle Bells aka One Horse Open Sleigh
In 1857 James Lord Pierpont wrote One Horse Open Sleigh as a holiday song for Thanksgiving. He was inspired while riding in a sleigh in New Hampshire. Some years after that event, he wrote the song we know as Jingle Bells.
The song was first performed by Johnny Pell who worked with a minstrel troupe known as Ordway’s Aeolians. The Boston performance was at Ordway Hall across from the South Meeting House
Fun Fact: In 1965 American astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra smuggled bells and a harmonica onto Gemini 6, and on December 16th played Jingle Bells for Mission Control.
Illustrations & A Few Sources
Waking up the Old Mare, Currier & Ives, 1881; Sleigh & Bells, UBC Library Digitalization Centre; Crotal bell cast by Robert Wells Bell Foundry of Aldbourne, Wiltshire before 1826; Title Page to One Horse Open Sleigh. Marilyn Helmers. “What’s It Wednesday — Bells, Bells, Bells.” History Buzz. Dec. 22, 2021. Miki Onsudinjo. “10 Fun Facts About Sleigh Bells.” OUP Blog. Dec. 18, 2014.
Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.
Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.