One Massachusetts professor claims “Jingle Bells” is racist

'An Amish family heads down a neighbors lane in a one-horse open sleigh near Intercourse, Pa. Saturday morning, December 9, 1995. The Lancaster, Pa., area is expected to get 3-5 inches of snow in the area's first significant accumulation of the season. (AP Photo/Keith Baum)

Boston University Professor Kyna Hamill claims that the perennial favorite Christmas song, “Jingle Bells,” is actually racist and was written to make fun of African Americans.

The song was written in the 1850s by James Pierpont, who needed to make some quick money. Hamill told that he wrote the song to cash in on the “racist entertainment that was popular at the time.”

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Hamill, who is a theater history professor and has studied the origins of “Jingle Bells” for the last several years, said the original performance of the song was in 1857.

“It was first performed in this blackface minstrel hall in Boston in 1857,” Hamill said.

In a research paper published in September in Cambridge University’s theater history journal, Theatre SurveyHamill wrote that “the racial history of the song has remained hidden behind its local and seasonal affection.”

Performances of “Jingle Bells,” or “One Horse Open Sleigh” as it was originally titled, depicted stereotypical “dandy” characters that made fun of African Americans in Northern culture.

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Hamill said the song is a prime example of how 19th-century music’s “blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history.”

The Boston University professor started her research in response to the “Jingle Bells” war over where the song originated. Two cities, Medford, Massachusetts, and Savannah, Georgia, both claim the song was written in their city, but Hamill says it was most likely written in Boston, but she said she’s stopped worrying about where it was written.

“I stopped asking that question of where it was written,” Hamill said, arguing that it is a distraction from a “more significant” examination of the song.

She does, however, want to “revisit” some of the popular narratives and re-examine them further.

“This story only gets attention in the month of December every year,” she told, referring to the history of “Jingle Bells.” “Commemorating stories kind of compounds the nostalgia and the romanticism around each one of them.”

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