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Jingle all the way
December 19, 2006

Dashing through the snow
In a one-horse open sleigh

Brrrr, Makes me shiver just to think about it.

It's a good time to be dreaming of snow and sleigh rides, for tonight and tomorrow night are the longest nights of the year. Winter will officially begin at 7:22pm EST on Thursday evening, the moment of the winter solstice.

Go outside and (if we're lucky) look at the stars and think about wooly blankets, jingling bells and snowdrifts.

Jingle bells, jingle bells
Jingle all the way

You don't have to be in New England or other points north to appreciate this song. Did you know that it was (at least according to one legend) written right here in Georgia by a homesick New Englander?

James Pierpont, a native of Medford, Mass., moved to Savannah in the 1850s to join his brother, John Pierpont Jr., who was pastor of the Unitarian Church on Oglethorpe Square in that city. A musician, James served as the organist in the church. While in Savannah, he met and married the mayor's daughter, the comely Eliza Jane Purse.

He loved his new home, but he missed the old one. In the winter of 1857 he wrote a song recalling those long New England winter nights, calling it "One Horse Open Sleigh." A couple of years later, he republished it under the familiar title of "Jingle Bells." It's been loved over the world ever since.

[Some folks in Medford claim it was written there. I'm sticking to the Savannah story.]

As the hard years of the Civil War approached, the Unitarian Church dissolved with political differences among its members. The fractious members sold their church building to the Episcopal Diocese. Later, the new owner moved the building to Troup Square.

Like many families of the time, the Pierpont family found itself divided by the war.

John Pierpont returned to New England, but James and Eliza stayed in Savannah. James served with the 5th Georgia Calvary and wrote several battle songs for the Confederate Army. James's father, John Pierpont Sr., served as a chaplain in the Union Army.

When peace came James moved his family to Valdosta and (perhaps) later to Quitman, putting him practically in the Bainbridge neighborhood.

Back in Savannah, the Unitarian Church re-established itself, but in a different location. Through the years the former Unitarian Church building was home to several congregations of diverse faiths. In the 1990s, the Baptist Church operating there sold it back to the Unitarian-Universalist Congregation. Now it prides itself as the "Jingle Bell Church."

Next time you are in Savannah, drop by and hum a couple of verses.

Another "Jingle Bells" story

Here's a final "Jingle Bells" story.

On Dec. 16, 1965, the Gemini astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra reported with some alarm that they had spotted an unknown object, possible a satellite going from north to south. After a long, suspenseful silence, they further reported that apparently they were observing one command module being pulled by eight smaller modules. As they zoomed their sights in they saw that the pilot was wearing a red suit.

At this point the two laughing voyagers brought out their smuggled-into-space harmonica and sleighbells and broke into song, making "Jingle Bells" the first song ever to be broadcast from space.

If you are expecting that command module and eight tiny modules at your house this Christmas Eve, you'll want to offer refreshments to the travelers. Here's a good way to ensure a full stocking.

These cookies make a great treat since you don't have to give up space in your busy holiday oven, and the kids can easily help make them. Santa will know he's in Southwest Georgia since they have plenty of peanuts.

Butter-up Santa butterscotch treats
1 (12-ounce) package of butterscotch flavored chips
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
4 cups dry flaked cereal (corn or wheat) or Rice Krispies
1 cup peanuts

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt butterscotch chips and peanut butter.

Combine cereal and peanuts in a large bowl and pour in butterscotch mixture; mix well.

Toss until coated evenly.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheets lined with wax paper. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Makes 36 cookies.

Don't forget the reindeer on the roof. They get hungry prancing, dancing and flying around. A few carrots or turnips are always welcome, or stir this up and let the youngsters sprinkle it on the lawn (or roof if you have a sturdy ladder and parental supervision). You could also leave a decorated bagful for Santa to share with the little deers when they return to the North Pole.

Vixen and Blitzen Mix
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup red and/or green sugar crystals (for cake decorating)

Mix together in a zipper food storage bag or empty shaker container. You can punch holes in the lids of an empty jar—baby food jars are good.

If you run across a recipe for reindeer food that calls for craft glitter, don't make it. The glitter can harm birds or other creatures who might eat any that the reindeer leave behind. The sugar crystals are animal (imaginary and real) friendly.

Merry Christmas to all!

Post-script—Thanks to my Clemson friend and colleague, Holly Ulbrich, for telling me about the "Jingle Bell Church."


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Trilla Pando is a member of the Southern Foodways Alliance & the Story Circle Network