The ringing sound of sleigh bells is all too familiar around this time of the year. It’s the official siren signaling in the winter season. While a well-known signature staple on sleighs, Santa suits and reindeer, jingle bells haven’t always been associated with Christmas. They do much more than just ring in holiday cheer.
1. Sleigh bells or jingles bells are a type of bell that produces a distinctive jingle sound. They are in the percussion family of instruments.
2. The bells are made from sheet metal bent into a spherical shape with a small ball bearing or short metal rod placed inside to create the jingle sound.
3. Small bells were known in ancient times. In Sumer, Babylonia, Assyria, and Egypt they were commonly suspended from the trappings of horses, mules, and camels.
4. Centuries ago, sleigh bells were fastened to horses to signal the approach of someone important or to warn pedestrians of an approaching vehicle. Sleighs were unable to stop quickly enough so they needed a warning sound.
5. William Barton opened the first US sleigh bell company in East Hampton, Connecticut in 1810. East Hampton eventually became known as “Belltown” because it produced so many bells.
6. Sleigh bells, or jingles, are rarely used to produce specific pitches. Mozart, however, prescribed this in the third of his Three German Dances K605.
7. The song Jingle Bells, also known as “One Horse Open Sleigh,” is one of the most popular and most recorded songs on Earth. It was written in 1857 by James Lord Pierpont and was originally meant for Thanksgiving.
8. Sleigh bells were one of the first instruments played in space. In 1965, Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra, smuggled bells and a harmonica onto their spacecraft and played Jingle Bells for mission control as a light-hearted holiday joke.
9. The affluent ornamentally wore bells as a symbol of wealth and status.
10. In old Pagan beliefs, jingle bells are used to ward off bad luck, diseases, and evil spirits. Today, some motorcyclists strap small bells to their handlebars to ward off road demons.
Headline image credit: Sleigh Bells. Photo by Richard Wheeler. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.