Sledding in the Streets

Sledding in the Streets cover

As the cold snow wistfully falls, I dream of romantic horse-drawn carriage rides through Central Park in New York City. Thick, soft blankets and some steaming, hot chocolate add to the ambiance. The horses appear happy trotting down the paved walkway sparkling in Christmas lights. But, some of these animals are better suited for a faster track, like sledding in the streets. For example, the ever-popular horse racing in the 1800s. The Massachusetts resident, James Pierpont wrote about the sport in his tune, “One-Horse Open-Sleigh,” later known as Jingle Bells in 1850.

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Portrait of James Lord Pierpont, courtesy of New England Historical Society

Enjoy James Pierpont’s tune, “Jingle Bells”, sung by Bing Crosby

As this story tells, he wrote it in the Simpson’s Tavern, a boarding house, on the only piano in town. An unproven detail is he wrote his winter song for his father’s Sunday School class for Thanksgiving. It was so popular enthusiasts sung it again at Christmas time. One of Pierpont’s friends called the melody, “a merry little jingle.”

The earliest recorded versions of the song played on music boxes but it didn’t become prevalent until the phonograph record era. Among all the recordings, it was Bing Crosby with The Andrews Sisters who made the tune most popular. Their 1943 recording is the one most often heard today during the Christmas season in the United States.

Pierpont’s song inspiration was the annual one-horse open-sleigh races on Salem and Pleasant Streets between Medford and Malden Square. What were these competitions? In the 19th century, harness racing was extremely popular in towns. Straight, snow packed roads made great racing lanes as men hitched their best horses for the matches. Local newspapers from the 1800s and early 1900s included the latest sleigh racing reports, winner’s names and the breeding of the best horses. For many, this sport was a cold-weather pastime, much like sledding and skiing. Horse necks, tied with large bells, helped avoid collisions at intersections (thus the inspiration for the title, “Jingle Bells”).

Sledding in the Streets pic 1

Image of a one-horse open-sleigh courtesy of Toronto Public Library

 

The sleigh described in “Jingle Bells” is known as a “cutter”—a two-person vehicle designed for a single horse in harness. The bobtailed mare, referenced in the song, covered a mile in two minutes and 40 seconds. Fast one! They bobbed tails of these horses to avoid entanglement in the tack.

As for sleigh racing, it dwindled in popularity each year after introducing the automobile.

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Horses are one of the most fascinating creatures created by God! In the Bible, they were sources of transportation, symbols of army strength, royal gifts, pagan worship, and badges of wealth, character and prophecies. To ride a horse in biblical times implied war, so men usually rode donkeys, mules, camels, and ox-driven carts. They were rarely used for agricultural purposes.

Proverbs 21:31
The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.

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People imported and exported horses daily so chariot cities were built to stable them. Archaeologists have uncovered the ancient city of Megiddo, which was one of King Solomon’s chariot cities. Massive stone hitching posts still may be observed at the location.

1 Kings 10: 28-29
Solomon’s horses were brought out of Egypt, and the king’s merchants received them in droves, each at a price. A chariot could be brought out of Egypt for 600 shekels of silver, and a horse for 150. And so to all the kings of the Hittites and of Syria they were exported by the king’s merchants.”

1 Kings 4:26
“Solomon also had 40,000 stalls for his chariots and 12,000 horsemen”.

But for the notoriety horses are famous for, God wants us to understand this about horses. He created them for their strength and power but not as a replacement for His power in your life. As horses are stubborn and independent, so the Lord encourages you to lean on Him at all times, for His guidance. Just as in the Bible, it can symbolize destruction or victory in His holy name! Have a blessed Christmas!

Join us again on Thursday, December 13th for another Everything Christmas Blog!


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