Thursday, January 12, 2023

Just Hear Those Sleigh Bells Ringing


Have you ever thought about the history behind the jolly jingling of sleigh bells? 

I have, but then again, I tend to ponder odd topics!

Kidding aside, I thought it would be fun to do a little research into the history of sleigh bells.

What we commonly refer to as a sleigh bell (a pellet trapped within a hollow globe) is actually a crotal, and is technically a rattle not a bell.

Originally, the ball inside was made of stone and some of the earliest bells (or crotals) were produced thousands of years ago.

Bells were used as charms said to bring good luck or ward off evil, as well as for decoration. They became a way to show off wealth and status too. 

They were also a great warning system to others on the road or pedestrians in town that horses, or a horse-drawn vehicle was approaching. 

Bells were typically round or egg-shaped. Ornate bells might include an acorn or flower bud shape. Square bells are said to look impressive but make a terrible noise. 

The throat of the bell is the number of slits in the bottom that allow it to vibrate and ring. In the early days, most cast harness bells had a broad single throat, giving them a rich, deep tone. When bells were manufactured, a second and sometimes third throat was added, giving the bells a softer chime or jingle, much like what you hear today in many Christmas and winter tunes. 

There's nothing quite like the sound of sleigh bells ringing across a crisp winter day.  

In both Europe and the United States, sleighing was once a popular form of recreation in the winter. Horses and sleighs were adorned with bells, polished and presented as a way to emphasize wealth and standing. Soon, the sound of bells became linked with winter, especially around the holiday season. 

By the 18th century, bell manufacturers began to case makers' marks and ornate designs on individual bells.  Bells were cast until the end of the 1800s when an American manufacturer developed a process to stamp bells out of sheet metal. Designs of the bells ranged from a petal or horseshoe design to initials to fish scale or ornate floral patterns. At one time, all the rage was a plain bell left undecorated and polished to a high shine. 

Unfortunately, with the automobile coming on the scene, horse-drawn transportation and the need for bells faded. 

Only a handful of old manufacturers are still producing class bells and many of the strings used today are antiques left from days gone by. 

If you happen to see bells on a horse or sleigh, you might find the bells jingling from the body strap that buckles over the harness around the horse's middle, on the neck strap around the horse's neck or collar, a hip strap on the horse's lower back or hips, and shaft bells may be attached direction to the shaves of the wagon or sleigh. For those who are riding a horse, small collections of bells can be attached to a saddle. 

The next time you hear the jolly jingle of sleigh bells, think about how crotals came to be!

To connect with USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield, visit her website, or discover more about her new sweet romance that features a sleigh bell serenade.

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