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Countdown to Savannah: Jingle Bells

Kathy Wood (kaydee)

In early 2007, we started our official Countdown to Savannah. Each Sunday, we posted a different topic about this special city where we met for our first Great Slow Travel Gathering in Spring 2008.

With 63 posts over 14+ months, we learned a lot about the many facets of this historic, hospitable and intriguing American city. Our weekly posts touched on Savannah's history, famous people, architecture, food, culture, surrounding area and much more. We hope this information acquaints you with Savannah, entices you to visit this historic city, and prepares you for a very memorable trip.

Who Really Composed "Jingle Bells"?

(Written 12/24/07) Today, some Slow Travelers are shoveling snow. Others are in much warmer weather, perhaps even planning to go to the beach tomorrow. Here where I live in the southeast USA, we’re just dreaming of a white Christmas ... kind of like they do in Savannah. Yesterday in Savannah, there was a high of 74 degrees, though it cooled down to 60 degrees today.

Despite the fact that it almost never snows in Savannah, many people believe that one of the most famous winter holiday songs originated in Savannah. When you’re in Savannah, find your way to Troup Square. There you’ll find an historical marker commemorating the song “Jingle Bells” and its composer James Pierpont. Jr.

Pierpont was the organist and music director for Savannah’s Unitarian Church on Troup Square for several years. Originally from New England, he moved from Medford, Massachusetts to Savannah in 1853. Although it's unlikely he ever traveled in a “one-horse open sleigh” in Savannah, he may have written the song as a tribute to the winters he experienced in New England. The song was supposedly first performed by a children’s choir at a Thanksgiving program at his Savannah church in 1857 and then requested again for a Christmas program. Eventually its popularity grew until it became one of the most beloved Christmas songs — even though it does not even mention Christmas! Some people question—given the lyrics—that it was ever performed in a church.

And some people also question whether the song was written in Savannah - particularly people from Medford, Massachusetts. Medford also claims to be the birthplace of “Jingle Bells,” and this has been an issue that has generated some major controversy.

After the publication of his song, James Pierpont remained in Savannah through the Civil War. He was a strong supporter of the Confederacy and even wrote music for the Confederate army. After the war, he moved with his family to Valdosta, Georgia. He died in Florida in 1893, but he wanted to be buried in Savannah. His grave is in the Laurel Grove cemetery.

Instead of humming “Dixie” or a Johnny Mercer tune when you’re in Savannah, you may find yourself humming “Jingle Bells” instead!

Learn more about James Pierpont and Jingle Bells:

The Battle Over Jingle Bells

James Lord Pierpont

Jingle Reb

Resources

All About Savannah: Links to many information pages about Savannah (where to eat, where to stay, places of interest, getting around town, and more)

Woods Family Grand Tour of Europe: List of articles and photo albums by Kathy Wood


Kathy is a former Human Resources executive who now works as a consultant and part-time college professor. She and Charley also lead The Luberon Experience (www.luberonexperience.com), a week-long, small-group trip based in Provence.

© Kathy Wood, 2007


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