News 18 December 2017
Author: Marisa Lee

Is “Jingle Bells” racist?

Author Marisa Lee
18 December 2017

Well, if this isn’t the definition of Christmas cheer. Kyna Hamill, a Boston University professor, is defending her controversial research that discovered racist origins in the Christmas song, “Jingle Bells” and blaming the media for trying to “rile people up at this time of year.”

Hamill is a lecturer at BU’s core curriculum and traced the history of the song to try and settle the rivalry between Medford and Savannah, Georgia, two cities that claim to be the birthplace of the tune. 

Her research found that “Jingle Bells” was originally performed in blackface during a minstrel show as “One Horse Open Sleigh” at Ordway Hall on Washington Street in Boston. Leaving her initial aim behind, she investigated.

In an email to the Boston Herald she wrote, “In 1857 when it was performed in blackface — that is white men blackening up with burnt cork on their faces — it would have been racist. This performance tradition is historical fact and continued in the U.S. until the 1930s as an amateur entertainment.”

“I never said it was racist now,” said Hamill. “Nowhere did I say that. My point was that because it is now included in the Christmas catalog of songs — attention is only given to it during the Christmas season — it has eluded rigorous study.”

She added: “I did not write the article to make people upset. At no point have I ever made a claim on what people should or should not sing at Christmas.”

What do you think?