Jingle Bells was the first song played in space


This harmonica, and these bells, are sitting in the Smithsonian Museum today. In 1965, however, they were in space, with astronauts Walter M. "Wally" Schirra Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford, who were doing a pre-Christmas mission aboard Gemini 6.

Just before Stafford and Schirra were scheduled to reenter Earth's atmosphere December 16, the pair reported they had sighted some sort of UFO. Schirra recounted the moment when Stafford contacted Mission Control in Schirra's Space, a memoir he wrote with Richard Billings:

"We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit.... Looks like he might be going to re-enter soon.... You just might let me pick up that thing.... I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit."

Then ground controllers heard the strains, both familiar and otherworldly, of "Jingle Bells." The Santa Claus plot had been hatched weeks before the Gemini 6 mission. "Wally came up with the idea," recalls Stafford, now a retired Air Force general, who chairs an International Space Station advisory group. "He could play the harmonica, and we practiced two or three times before we took off, but of course we didn't tell the guys on the ground."

"I could hear the voices at Mission Control getting tense," Stafford adds, "when I talked about sighting something else up there with us. Then, after we finished the song, [Mission Control's] Elliot See relaxed and just said, 'You're too much.'"

Thanks to leharrist for Submitterating!


  1. In my mind, someone’s eyes widen in fear at the mention of a red-suited pilot. They are thinking: COMMIES?!

  2. His and the Apollo 8 crew’s reading of Genesis while orbiting the moon on Christmas Eve 1968 is one of my all-time best Christmas memories. “God bless everyone, everyone on the good earth.” Still makes me cry.

  3. “Jingle Bells” is one of the best-known and commonly sung winter songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” in 1857. Even though it is commonly referred to as a Christmas song, it was actually written and sung for Thanksgiving. It was mistakenly branded as a Christmas song because being extremely popular at Thanksgiving, it was sung again around Christmas.

  4. The first verse and chorus are the most well-remembered sections of “Jingle Bells”:

    Dashing through the snow
    In a one-horse open sleigh
    O’er the fields we go
    Laughing all the way
    Bells on bobtails ring:Making spirits bright
    What fun it is to laugh and sing
    A sleighing song tonight!

    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way;
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.
    Jingle bells, jingle bells,
    Jingle all the way;
    Oh! what fun it is to ride
    In a one-horse open sleigh.

    Although less well-known than the opening, the remaining verses depict high-speed youthful fun. In the second verse, the narrator takes a ride with a girl and loses control of the sleigh:

    A day or two ago
    I thought I’d take a ride
    And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
    Was seated by my side,
    The horse was lean and lank
    Misfortune seemed his lot
    He got into a drifted bank
    And then we got upsot.:|: chorus :|

    In the next verse (which is often skipped), he falls out of the sleigh and a rival laughs at him:

    A day or two ago,
    The story I must tell
    I went out on the snow,
    And on my back I fell;
    A gent was riding by
    In a one-horse open sleigh,
    He laughed as there I sprawling lie,
    But quickly drove away.
    |: chorus :|

    In the last verse, after relating his experience, he gives equestrian advice to a friend to pick up some girls, finds a faster horse, and take off at full speed:

    Now the ground is white
    Go it while you’re young,
    Take the girls tonight
    and sing this sleighing song;
    Just get a bobtailed bay
    Two forty as his speed:Hitch him to an open sleigh
    And crack! you’ll take the lead.
    |: chorus :|

  5. The last Christmas song ever played in space will be during the global riots of 2052.

    A geriatric Lady Gaga and Blanket Jackson will sing a duet of Silent Night.

    And the world will be engulfed in flames.

  6. I miss Wally Schirra. He used to hang out at the San Diego Air & Space Museum and just talk to people about, well, Air & Space.

    He wouldn’t have socked that guy like Buzz Aldrin; he’d’ve spun a yarn to convince the guy there was an even bigger conspiracy that no one had even thought of before, before laughing & telling the guy “Nah, I made all that up, we really went to the moon.”

  7. If we want to get technical, Elliot See was a fellow astronaut, as the other astronauts rotated in as CAPCOM. :)

    (this is one of my favorite stories – thanks for sharing!)

  8. And sure enough, to this day, this story is one that serves for UFO believers as “proof” that astronauts saw UFOs in space and that there’s some big cover-up conspiracy going on that keeps them from talking about it. No matter how often and how much you explain what’s going on here, no matter how much you point out the facts, no matter how much you put it in context, they “want to believe” and thus dismiss any debunking.

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