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83. Jingle Bells in Turkey during 1400 to 1600CR

DEC. 21, 2023


What’s that noise? It’s jingle bells, in Turkey, during 1400 to 1600CE. In this episode Ryan talks Turkey including Christmas turkeys, turkeys in space and how to fertilise your turkey. Also we share the story of Jingle Bells and enjoy a history of bell-making in the Ottoman empire. Merry Christmas everyone.

It’s Christmas time, and what’s Christmas without Turkey? So, on today’s episode I’ve got lashings of turkey facts for you to gobble up!

Alright, let’s start with a quick orientation to Turkey!

Turkey is a large bird in the genus Meleagris. Originally from the forests of North America, you’ll recognise the Turkey thanks to its round plump body, distinctive gobbly call, and the fleshy wattle that hangs down like a pair of wrinkly testicles from the top of its beak.

Famous for being the traditional dish at a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal, an estimated 46 million Turkeys are killed every year in America alone – which if placed together would occupy an area approximately 460,000 square kilometers, which is about 70% the size of France.

Considered to be highly intelligent and with playful personalities, Turkeys have three times better eye-sight than humans, and have been clocked flying up to 55 mph.

They don’t have a religion, their favourite dish is grains and insects, and they are not the national animal of any country – despite former-US president Benjamin Franklin calling them a “respectable bird”, “a bird of courage” and “a true original native of America”.

There is no official flag with a Turkey on it, and there isn't yet an official anthem for turkeys, but if there was to be one, I’d love to see it be ‘Turkey in the Straw’ an American folk song that dates back to the early 19th century.

The composer of this song is lost to time, but supposedly it originates from another earlier song written for the fiddle, called ‘Natchez Under the Hill’, which was popular in the raging barn-dance scene of the early 1800s.

Today, ‘Turkey in the straw’ is most commonly heard playing through the speakers of ice cream trucks in America, as it is one of the more popular songs used to entice kids to buy frozen treats

In 2010, turkey sperm was sent to the International Space Station. It was for a research project on animal reproduction in space, looking at the effects of microgravity on sperm and fertility in general.

Talking of sperm, Chicago has a Turkey Testicle Festival! Advertised as being for 21 year olds and over, the key events are the Deep-fried turkey testicle eating competition, and the Gobbler Wobble, which is a race where you have to run with a turkey testicle on your face.

Turkey Testicles are bigger than you think – about the size of a large olive, and the Turkey testicle pizza is apparently a delicacy in Taiwan.

Turkey poop is shaped based on the gender. If you want to find out if a turkey is a male or female, check their droppings. A male Turkey’s poop is shaped like the letter J. The female’s poop is spiral-shaped. So now you know.

A long time ago, the Earth was ruled by dinosaurs, many of which walked on two legs. Around 150 million years ago, some of these bipedal dinos evolved feathers and a wishbone, and early bird was born.

85 million years later, an extinction event causes these birds to evolve further, diversifying into a variety of different types of birds, one type being the order of birds called ‘Galliformes’, which emerged around 40-50 million years ago, and living in forests, evolved strong legs and a robust body.

Over time, the Galliformes evolved into several distinct species, which included the ancestors of chickens, quails, pheasants and turkeys.

The oldest records of turkeys are found in North America with fossils that date back several million years. Sometime over that million years or so, these turkeys split into two tribes, the larger and heavier wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) and the blue-headed ocellated turkey (Meleagris ocellata).

About 10,000 years ago, indigenous peoples in Mesoamerica give up hunting the South Mexican wild turkey, and decide to domesticate them instead, which seemed a lot easier.

They bred them for their meat, but also for their feathers which the locals used for their headresses and ceremonial bits and bobs.

The Spanish arrive in the 16th century, and ransack the continent, taking spoils home with them to Europe, including turkeys, which quickly became popular across Europe and were introduced to other parts of the world by explorers and settlers.

In 1621 in North America, pilgrim settlers are starving and native Americans see their plight and give them a gift of food and drink, perhaps including turkeys. We say perhaps, because it's not clear if turkeys were actually eaten at this feast, but regardless, their ability to feed an entire family with meat from one bird, meant that they have became the centrepiece of the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals since the 19th century.

And that’s why, today turkeys are bred on a large scale, with millions of the Broad Breasted White, the most commonly raised turkey, bred for slaughter because of their rapid growth and large size.

But - side note - the breeding programme for the Broad Breasted White has been so aggressive in making the bird as large as it can be for slaughter, that they can no longer mate naturally due to their huge body size, which means that all commercially raised turkeys now rely on artificial insemination for fertility.
The turkey industry is a significant part of global agriculture, with Brazil, Germany, France, Italy and the United States all contributing towards the production of over 200 million turkeys every year.

And the economic outlook for Turkey is looking good, with a 10 year projection showing a continued rise in sales, despite the risks faced from fake meat and diseases such as avian bird flu.

So, in summary, it used to be a dinosaur, then a mexican’s headwear, it’s been farmed into super-turkeys, slaughtered in the billions, and served as a traditional meat in a meal to celebrate Thankfulness, Goodwill and Joy.


Alright, so we all know the song, ‘Jingle Bells’ right? It’s perhaps the best-known and most commonly sung Christmas song in the world.

The lyrics describe the experience of riding in a one-horse open sleigh, as the sound of sleigh bell as it glides over the snow.

It’s a light-hearted story of the winter season, originally written not for Christmas – but Thanksgiving!

Composed in 1850 by James Lord Pierpont, as a means to cheer up his local Sunday-school meet-up, he called the song, "The One Horse Open Sleigh", which was a nod to the town’s annual sleigh race.

In fact, it is said that the sleigh race gave Pierpont more than just inspiration for the song name, because a number of modern-day researchers have pointed out the similarities between his song and a number of earlier popular tunes. One researcher said, "everything about the song is churned out and copied from other people and lines from other songs — there is nothing original about it at all".

Regardless, Jingle Bells, or The One Horse Open Sleigh, became something of a local hit, and by 1857 it had caught the attention of professional artists, with Johnny Pell, a blackface minstrel performer, bringing it first to the people of Boston, under the title “Jingle Bells; or, The One Horse Open Sleigh”.

Two years later, in 1889, a banjo player named Will Lyle recorded his version of the song and released it in December - unwittingly making ‘Jingle Bells’ the very first Christmas record ever released!

Sadly, that version has been lost to time, but the next recorded version, an 1898 vocal recording has survived.

It was issued on Edison brown wax cylinder, titled ‘number 2218, "Sleigh Ride Party"’ and these recordings brought the song some success, but it was only when it became a popular parlour and college song for drunks to sing, that it made it into the fabric of society – eventually becoming the de facto Christmas song, selling millions of copies, in various versions, being used in commercials, movies and tv shows.

It was also the first song to be broadcast from space, in a Christmas-themed prank by Gemini 6 astronauts Tom Stafford and Wally Schirra, who had smuggled a harmonica and jingle bells onboard the spaceship and played the song to the world on December 16, 1965 .

It has inspired parody songs, like, "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" which first appeared in the mid-1960s and it inspired other hit songs, songs like "Jingle Bell Rock" which was written in 1957 by Beal and Boothe, a song that did well on release but became an instant classic after being featured in the Christmas movie, ‘Home Alone’.

So, that’s Jingle Bells, the origin of the topic of this episode.. but, what are Jingle Bells, really?

Well, as I said earlier, the ‘Jingle Bells’ in the song refer to ‘sleigh bells’, small, metal, hollow bells that have a small pea-sized pellet inside that makes a high-pitched, tinkling sound when shaken.

They are most commonly associated with Christmas, but long before sleighs and jingles, the bells were used as a simple percussion instrument.

In fact, ‘Jingle Bells’ as we know them today, aren’t officially called ‘Jingle’ bells, or ‘Sleigh’ bells. Sometimes they’re called rumbler bells, or pellet bells, but the actual official name is ‘Crotal Bells’ – and they have been around for thousands of years.

Which is good for us, because we’re looking at the 1400-1600 time period which saw the rise of the Ottoman Empire, the printing press arrive in Europe, Columbus sailing the ocean blue, and the start of the protestant reformation.

But were there any crotal bells in Turkey during this time? Let’s find out..

The Story of Ahmet the Crotal Bellmaker

The story that follows is a fictional one, based on real history and facts. So the people described may not have existed, but the scenario is historically-based.

PART ONE: ‘Master and Apprentice’

The year is 1475, and the Ottoman Empire is a behemoth, having doubled it’s size since Sultan Mehmed II captured Constantinople in May of 1453.

Mehmed the Conqueror, as he is now known has ushered in an era of unprecedented prosperity, with the Ottoman's dominion now covering vast swathes of the Mediterranean, Southeastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

In the empire's pulsating capital, Istanbul, life thrived under the golden dome of the Hagia Sophia. The city's streets were a vibrant mosaic of languages and cultures, a testament to the empire's vast reach.

Yet, our tale unfolds not in this bustling metropolis but a hundred miles south, in the shadow of the Ulu Dağ mountains.

Here lay Bursa, an ancient city cradled by history and nature.

As a vital node on the Silk Road, Bursa's heartbeat was its Koza Han, a sprawling bazaar echoing with the din of merchants bartering spices, silks, and myriad exotic goods. Leading to this vibrant marketplace were narrow alleys, lined with shops and stalls showcasing an array of handcrafted treasures.

Among these, a modest workshop stood, known to only a discerning few as the sanctum of the empire's most esteemed bell maker – Farid al-Din. Farid, now in his twilight years, was a maestro of his craft.

Decades of relentless innovation and experimentation had refined his skills, enabling him to create bells renowned for their crystal-clear tones, robust volume, harmonious musicality, and intricate harmonics.

These were not mere instruments but revered art pieces.

His creations ranged from exquisite collections of handbells, each singing with its own signature tone, to the majestic Turkish Crescents. Standing 2.5 meters tall, these ornate musical instruments, adorned with bells on crosspieces, resonated through the ranks of the Ottoman military.

Known later as the Turkish Jingle and Jingling Johnny, they became symbols of the empire's might and musical heritage.

Perhaps his crowning achievement was the bell that swung in the city's tallest tower, its regular chimes a familiar and comforting presence to both citizens and travelers alike.

Farid's reputation as a bell maker had not only brought him substantial wealth but had also made his workshop a beacon for connoisseurs of fine craftsmanship.

Yet, for Farid, wealth was but a shadow to his passion for bell-making. His quest for the perfect bell, one that would encapsulate the essence of sound itself, never waned.

As age crept upon him, diminishing his strength and agility, Farid recognized the need to pass his legacy to an apprentice, one who could continue the art of bell-making and unravel its deepest mysteries.

Enter Ahmet, a young man with a keen intellect and steady hands, chosen by Farid for reasons known only to him.

Perhaps in Ahmet, Farid saw a reflection of his younger self – a soul captivated by the alchemy of metals and the science of sound, a craftsman who sought not just to make bells but to perfect them. Under Farid's tutelage, Ahmet embarked on an arduous journey into the heart of bell-making.

He delved deep into metallurgy, mastering the delicate balance of copper and tin to forge the ideal bronze alloy. This meticulous process was crucial, as it determined the bell's durability and, most importantly, its tone, pitch, and resonance.

Ahmet's apprenticeship was a tapestry of trials and revelations.

He quickly grasped the nuances of heating and cooling, understanding that the perfect melting of metals and the art of slow cooling were pivotal in preventing imperfections and enhancing the bell's sound quality and longevity.

Farid imparted his wisdom on how a bell's physical attributes – its shape, size, and wall thickness – were not mere aesthetic choices but critical factors influencing its acoustic properties. Ahmet learned that even the slightest alteration in design could yield vastly different sound waves.

Through relentless experimentation, Ahmet's skill flourished, and his bells began to sing with a clarity so profound that it was rumoured whirling dervishes sought them for their mystic visions.

Then, sadly, the day came when Farid, Ahmet's mentor and guide, passed away.

In his grief, Ahmet cast a small lead figurine of Farid, a talisman he wore around his neck in homage to the master who had illuminated his path in the art of bell-making.

PART TWO: ‘The Bells Toll for Thee’

In the wake of his master's passing, Ahmet not only continued the legacy of their esteemed bell-making workshop but elevated it to new heights. His workshop burgeoned into the premier destination for a diverse clientele seeking the finest bells, each group drawn by unique needs and beliefs.

Nobles and merchants adorned their caravans with Ahmet's bells, their clear, melodious tones heralding their approach like the enchanting chimes of an ice-cream truck today.

These bells, believed to ward off malevolent spirits, were a staple for travellers in those superstitious times.

The Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and other Eastern Christian communities sought Ahmet's bells for their churches, their sonorous peals calling the faithful to prayer in a resonant embrace.

Government officials, intrigued by Ahmet's renown, commissioned his bells as diplomatic gifts. These chimes, destined for foreign lands, were not just gifts but ambassadors of sound, weaving bonds with their captivating tones.

Even the formidable Ottoman navy placed a substantial order, envisioning a fleet unified by the sound of Ahmet's bells, signalling through the mist and waves.

Yet, amidst this flourishing trade, Ahmet found his time for innovation - the soul of his craft as taught by his master – dwindling.

Resolute, he made a bold decision: to decline new orders, focusing instead on creating a bell that would not only be a masterpiece but a heartfelt tribute to his beloved mentor.

However, inspiration proved elusive.

Day after day, Ahmet toiled, experimenting with various alloys, shapes, and decorations, yet nothing seemed worthy of his master's memory.

His breakthrough came unexpectedly during a stroll through the bustling bazaar. Amidst the cacophony, a distinct, enchanting jingle caught his attention.

It was a caravan, completing its arduous journey from distant China, having traversed scorching deserts and formidable mountains, past legendary cities like Samarkand and Kashgar along the Silk Road.

Each camel was adorned with strings of small bells, their chimes uniquely soothing yet unmistakable. These bells, shaped like tiger heads, captivated Ahmet with their detailed design and expressive features.

Eagerly, Ahmet approached the weary merchant, learning that these bells, heirlooms from generations past, were more than mere ornaments.

In Chinese culture, the tiger symbolized power, courage, and strength. These motifs, the merchant believed, protected him from desert spirits and thieves, their tinkling a safeguard through perilous journeys.

Intrigued and inspired, Ahmet purchased one of these tiger head crotal bells. Back in his workshop, he studied it intently, marvelling at the dense alloy clapper that produced such clear, resonant tones.

He set to work, determined to create an alloy that would not just emulate but surpass the Chinese bell. Despite meticulous experiments with casting techniques, metallurgy texts, consultations with fellow artisans, and even journeys to distant quarries for superior raw materials, success remained just out of reach. His creations, though beautiful, fell short of the tiger head bell's clarity and precision.

Frustration mounted, culminating in a moment of despair where Ahmet, in a fit of frustration, tore off the talisman his master had given him. Holding the small lead figurine, a spark of inspiration ignited within him. He rushed to the furnace, his resolve renewed.

With reverence, Ahmet placed the lead figurine into the molten bronze, watching as it dissolved into the fiery liquid.

This new leaded bronze was poured into a mold, forming a clapper that he then set inside a newly crafted crotal bell.

Holding his breath, he shook the bell gently.

The sound was transcendent, surpassing even the ancient Chinese bell in tone and resonance. Ahmet crafted five more, each etched with intricate designs, a fusion of his heritage and the inspiration drawn from afar.

As he danced around his workshop, the bells jingling in harmony, Ahmet felt a profound connection to his master. His new creation was not just a tribute; it was a symphony of legacy, innovation, and cross-cultural artistry, transcending even Farid's most exquisite works.

PART THREE: ‘An ice problem to have’

In the wake of Ahmet's breakthrough in crafting small crotal bells, one might have expected a deluge of orders. The ethereal beauty of their tones alone seemed destined to draw traders from far and wide, clamoring to acquire these auditory marvels.

Yet, his ingenious innovation, barely stirred the consciousness of the bustling markets.

A handful of Ahmet's bells found their way to the ankles of street performers, their unique jingles adding a magical touch to the lively performances.

Some mothers, enchanted by their soothing chimes, hung a few bells above their infants' cradles.

And, occasionally, the distinctive sound marked the passage of high-ranking officials, their steeds adorned with these exquisite creations, as they navigated the city's teeming streets.

But beyond these modest successes, Ahmet's crotal bells languished in relative obscurity. The anticipated surge in demand failed to materialize, and his workshop remained quiet, a repository of unsold masterpieces.

Ahmet's frustration grew as he watched his creations, imbued with such craftsmanship and beauty, gather dust. The marketplace, usually a hub of bustling activity and diverse interests, seemed indifferent to the unique allure of his bells. And to make things worse, it was during this period of professional stagnation that Ahmet and the entire Ottoman Empire found themselves in the grip of near total disaster.

Because, between the 14th and 19th centuries, much of the Northern Hemisphere underwent an intense period of cold weather that today is known as a ‘little ice age’.

Changes in the global climate meant that winters in Turkey, which were once brief and manageable, suddenly stretched into prolonged ordeals of snow, ice, and stormy seas. This resulted in a very different way of life for those in continents that were used to warmth from the sun, with communities becoming isolated and trade routes turned into impassable trails.

In the Anatolian highlands, Ottomans faced the brunt of the relentless cold. Harvests suffered under unyielding frosts, and poverty reached levels that thousands of villagers died from starvation.

Trade routes were disrupted, and military campaigns hindered as traders and soldiers struggled to walk through frozen mountain passes.

In Istanbul and Bursa, the heart of the Empire, the effects were just as palpable. Blanketed under a white shroud of ice, the streets of both cities, once alive with the sounds of commerce and chatter, now echoed with the crunch of snow and the muffled conversations of cloaked figures braving the cold. Even the mighty Bosporus river, an essential waterway for the Empire’s citizens, froze over entirely, with ice several feet thick .

Simply put, this was an event that seeped into the very bones of the empire, changing the rhythm of daily life for hundreds of years as people tried to adapt.

And one of the ways that the Ottomans adapted was by embracing the customs of their neighbours from Russia and the Baltic regions. Customs like using horse-drawn sleighs and sleds which were designed to effortlessly move goods and people long distances over snow-covered landscapes.
Which brings us back to Ahmet, because with numerous sleds sliding around silently on Istanbul's snow-laden streets, he envisioned a new purpose for his crotal bells.

Reimagining them as "sleigh bells" – they were no longer just instruments for music and good luck charms, but served a more crucial function by providing a clear and resonant sound that would announce the sleigh's approach, ensuring safety for the sleigh’s driver and any passing pedestrians.

And so, he set to work, engraving his new crotal bells with winter patterns and cast from alloys that would allow the bells to ring with clarity despite the freezing temperatures.

Word of Ahmet's sleigh bells spread like wildfire.

Orders began pouring in from every corner of the Ottoman Empire, from the frozen banks of the Danube to the snow-capped peaks of Mesopotamia, Ahmet's sleigh bells became the quintessential sound of Ottoman winters - a symbol of resilience in the face of unyielding cold, and a ubiquitous part of Ottoman culture.

In fact, Ahmet's workshop struggled to meet demand, and by the time that Ahmet died, his foundries in Bursa had produced over 30,000 of his crotal bells.

And his legacy didn’t stop there, because as Ahmet's bells spread across the Empire, other artisans were inspired to recreate his technique.

Local metalsmiths blended Ahmet’s designs with their own unique variations, like those found in the courts of India's Mughal rulers, where bells similar to Ahmet’s found homes next to rosewater fountains and in the music rooms of nobles where artists incorporated their chimes into beautiful compositions.

And today, some of the bells survive in museums and collections, showcases of the pinnacle of Ottoman craftsmanship. Their voices still ring with the memory of Farid, Ahmet and the ancient Far East. every rhythmic jingle vibrating the air with the essence of joy.

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