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Jingle Bells. You hear it everywhere during the Christmas season. Kids sing it, adults sing it, dogs even sing it. Turn on a radio station close to Christmas and there’s a good chance some famous and normally respectable pop singer is belting out the lines.

Yessir it’s Christmas because Jingle Bells is being played.

Yet, in truth, the song Jingle Bells has absolutely NOTHING to do with Christmas, with the holidays, with presents or Santa Clause or any of that stuff. In fact the song is drinking song, written in a bar and about boozing and gambling.

The song was composed in 1850 in the Simpson Tavern in the town of Medford Massachusetts. The composer, James Lord Pierpont, was also less than an upstanding citizen. Apparently he was a boozer who abandoned his wife and kids. In fact when his wife died he didn’t even show up for the funeral and promptly remarried.

So what is the song really about? Well in Medford, Mass one of the most popular past times during the winter season was drag racing your horse-drawn sleigh up and down Salem Street. Gambling on these races was also pretty popular. As was drinking while racing or watching the races. So check out the lyrics (sans the chorus) with this context in mind:

Dashing through the snow
On a one horse open sleigh
O'er the fields we go,
Laughing all the way
Bells on bob tail ring,
making spirits bright
What fun it is to laugh and sing
A sleighing song tonight

A day or two ago,
I thought I'd take a ride,
And soon Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side;
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
We got into a drifted bank,
And then we got upsot.

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song
Just get a bob tailed bay
two-forty as his speed (two-forty refers to a mile in two minutes and forty seconds at the trot, or 22.5 miles per hour, a quick speed)
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead

So there you go, one of the most familiar of Christmas songs has nothing to do with Christmas and more to do with drag-racing, gambling and drinking. And now that we know this, we like it even more! 

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