It's one of the most famous Christmas Carols - and now, a Boston University professor is calling it racist.
BU theater historian Kyna Hamill makes the argument in a research paper published earlier this year titled '"The story I must tell": "Jingle Bells" in the Minstrel Repertoire.'
"Jingle Bells" is a hometown favorite for people from Medford - it was written by James Lord Pierpont, and there's a plaque in the city commemorating where he wrote the song.
But Hamill said she looked into the history of the song - and of Pierpont's life. She said there's a different story entirely behind it.
"I don't have the definite answer to where he sat down and wrote the song," Hamill said in an interview for BU Today. "But - and this is where my town is going to be mad at me - it was absolutely not written in 1850 at the Simpson Tavern in Medford."
Hamill tracked down Pierpont's history, and found he was living in California in 1850 - the year the song was allegedly written in Medford.
And that's not all.
Hamill found a playbill from the Harvard Theater Collection that shows the first time the song was performed was at Ordway Hall on Sept. 15, 1857, in blackface, during a minstrel show.
"The legacy of "Jingle Bells" is, as we shall see, a prime example of a common misreading of much popular music from the nineteenth century in which its blackface and racist origins have been subtly and systematically removed from its history," Hamill argues in her research paper.
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