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Snowy Sleigh Bells

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"Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells
All seem to say, throw cares away
Christmas is here, bringing good cheer
To young and old, meek and the bold..."
— "Carol of the Bells"

One good way to recognize winter-themed music is the presence of jingly sleigh bells (also known as jingle bells) in the soundtrack.

These little bells were first used on horse-drawn vehicles to warn bypassers about the arrival of the carriage and most importantly the sleighs (hence the name), as the vehicle would otherwise make no sound at all. The relation between these bells and sleighs might be the origin of this trope and is the premise of the most famous Christmas song of them all: Jingle Bells.

Incredibly common in Slippy-Slidey Ice World levels in video games, as well as in Christmas Songs. Sometimes also featured in more grim winter-based settings where it's more likely to evoke a dogsled than Santa Claus.

For more musical location associations, see Jungle Jazz, Waltz on Water, Steel Drums and Sunshine, and Regional Riff.


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    Anime & Manga 

    Films — Animation 
  • Santa's sleigh bells become a minor plot point near the end of The Polar Express — Hero Boy, who has been struggling with his faith in Santa, can't hear the bells until he decides to believe, at which point he can hear them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Christmas episode of Le cœur a ses raisons has sleigh bells during the interludes between the "Christmas at the Montgomery's'' segments. The Christmas episode of "Medical Drama" also features sleigh bells each time Brett says the word "Christmas".

  • A lot of Christmas Songs use sleigh bells as a part of their instrumentation, with "Jingle Bells" as the prime example.
  • Evoked in the opening of "Sleigh Ride": "Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling, too..." Also a big feature of the original orchestral version by Leroy Anderson.
  • Sufjan Stevens not only uses sleigh bells on many songs from his Songs for Christmas box set, but also writes about them in the liner notes, mentioning that playing them properly isn't as easy as you'd think.
  • Downplayed in the Norwegian Christmas song/parody "Julekveld i skogen" by Rolf Just Nilsen, where sleigh bells are only used as part of the instrumentation in the verses that describe someone arriving in a sleigh.
  • Evoked in "Winter Wonderland" with the rhyme "Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? / In the lane snow is glistening".
  • Gordon Lightfoot's "Song for a Winter's Night" is punctuated with these.
  • Many of the winter-themed songs by Matthew Villani feature these, and not just the happy Christmas-themed ones, either. In works meant to evoke a blistering chill and a frozen landscape, the sleigh bells only serve to enhance the grim and icy atmosphere rather than evoke anything festive or cheerful.
  • Classical music gives us the second movement of Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé suite: Troika ride is an evocation of a horse-drawn Russian sleigh charging through the snow. this is so evocative of Winter - the orchestral percussionist is kept busy ringing sleigh bells throughout - that it has become synonymous with Christmas.
  • Used in "Little Saint Nick" by The Beach Boys, unsurprisingly. But Brian Wilson loved sleigh bells and used them in a bunch of non-Christmassy Beach Boys songs as well.
  • "New York's a Lonely Town", a 1965 hit by Beach Boys soundalikes The Trade Winds about a surfer bemoaning having to spend the winter in the snowy Big Apple, prominently features these.
  • Some parts of Ava Max's "Christmas Without You" use sleigh bells.


    Tabletop Games 
  • The digital implementation of Ticket to Ride unsurprisingly has very prominent sleigh bells in the music playing when having a game on the Nordic Countries based on Scandinavia.

    Video Games 

    Web Video 
  • Video game music analyst Jake Butineau has a video discussing this trope: "Why I Hate Winter Level Music." He argues that the "Instant winter, just add sleigh bells!" approach has been overused to the point of cliche, and feels that VG musicians are ignoring all the other ways they could evoke the mood of winter.
    Jake: This is called a sleigh bell. You may have heard it in every Christmas song, ever.
  • The parody Christmas Song "Communist Christmas" by Rathergood features sleigh bells.


    Western Animation