Jingle Bells and Deck The Halls are carol-sing basics and for good reason. They’re peppy and have words that are easy remember and are nostalgic for a time none of us where alive to remember, so there aren’t any spoilsports around to ruin the rose-coloured view. Perfect.
Rather unusually for Christmas songs, we know the exact date of birth for Jingle Bells. On 16th September 1857, American organist James Pierpont copyrighted the song ‘One Horse Open Sleigh.
According to a source no less august than the Smithsonian Magazine, Jingle Bells was the first song broadcast from space, in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra, December 16, 1965. They sent Mission Control this report:
We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit… I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit…
The astronauts then produced a smuggled harmonica and sleighbells and broadcast a rendition of “Jingle Bells”
No such anecdotes exist for Deck The Halls despite its much larger headstart. Originally a Welsh song about New Year’s, it was circulating as a dance tune well before the 18th century. The lyrics we sing now are American in origin and, not surprisingly, are a far more sanitized version of the drinking, dancing and loving-themed text of which the Welsh were so fond.