Over the River for Thanksgiving

Being a Texas girl, I remember how surprised I was to learn (at a not so tender age) that the long-time favorite “Over the River and Through the Wood” was a Thanksgiving song and, to make matters worse, that snowy old sleigh in the song was originally going to Grandfather’s house. With lines such as “The horse knows the way/ To carry the sleigh/ Through the white and drifted snow…” it seemed obvious to me this visit was initiated at Christmastime. Um…nope. It was rather like the time I discovered half the United States had colorful leaves well before November. To me, fall started in mid to late October and culminated no sooner than December 1.  In my limited knowledge of the world, and obviously the United States, I never dreamed there was a place relatively close where snow fell in November. The song was sung in English after all. It wasn’t like it was set in the North Pole.    

I have found a site on the Internet that claims (with what appears to be good documentation—though I didn’t take the time to do a deep dive into it) the original words were written by Lydia Maria Child and published in 1854. The work was titled “The New-England Boy’s Song About Thanksgiving Day,” and the sleigh riders, as I have already said, were going to grandfather’s house. At any rate, for many years it was a popular Thanksgiving song and was later adapted into a Christmas song with Grandmother substituted for Grandfather. <“Over the River and Through the Wood,” hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com.>

Although the original song (or poem) has 12 verses, I know that I have never heard but the first six, and my source agrees with this, saying that the last six verses are “virtually never heard.” (Ibid.) I give you the following full and reportedly original twelve verses:

Over the river and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop
For doll or top,
For ’t is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river, and through the wood,
With a clear blue winter sky,
The dogs do bark,
And children hark,
As we go jingling by.

Over the river and through the wood,
To have a first-rate play –
Hear the bells ring
Ting a ling ding,
Hurra for Thanksgiving day!

Over the river and through the wood
No matter for winds that blow;
Or if we get
The sleigh upset
Into a bank of snow.

Over the river and through the wood,
To see little John and Ann;
We will kiss them all,
And play snowball,
And stay as long as we can.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Trot fast my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground,
Like a hunting-hound,
For ‘t is Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river, and through the wood,
And straight through the barnyard gate;
We seem to go 
Extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait.

Over the river, and through the wood –
Old Jowler hears our bells;
He shakes his pow, 
With a loud bow-wow,
And thus the news he tells.

Over the river, and through the wood –
When Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, Oh dear,
The children are here,
Bring a pie for every one.

Over the river, and through the wood –
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurra for the fun!
Is the pudding done?
Hurra for the pumpkin pie. (Ibid.)

Note: The spellings, I assume, are from the original  publication.

P. S. Last night I went to bed without posting this. As I am apt to do on a Saturday night, I picked up THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, REVIEW. I look forward to the REVIEW every Saturday evening. It has several pages of articles or essays on culture, literature, science and the various arts (to name a few subjects), as well as a section specific to BOOKS. I generally enjoy it all but am particularly drawn to the in-depth book reviews. Anyway, I sat down on the bed, opened REVIEW and a few pages into it came across an article titled “The Woman Who Taught Americans to Make Do With Less” by Lydia Moland. The article concerned none-other than Lydia Maria Child, the one and same person whom I have discussed in this post as the author of “Over the River and Through the Wood.” I had never before heard of her, but the article proved to be quite interesting. It did, in passing, mention her authoring of the song, but the article emphasized a totally different subject: Child’s penchant for frugality. It turns out she was well-known as a novelist and children’s writer but, in 1829, she wrote The Frugal Housewife, a kind of self-help book extoling frugality as a patriotic duty, a duty that allowed people to be generous with others and with causes they believed in. One of the causes Child came to believe dearly in was abolition and through the power of thrift, she contributed financially, as well as in other ways, to that cause and many others. It turns out Lydia Maria Child was a fascinating person whose superpower, I would guess, was love.  

I want to wish each of you a Happy Thanksgiving now in case I do not post anything until after that festive day. I have four occasions to cook for (“for which to cook”—for you grammarians out there) between now through Thanksgiving, and I am sure, beyond. It would have been five, but one was canceled! And then family is coming. I am so excited. I love it all. I am, indeed, thankful to God for my plentiful blessings. May you each have a wonderful holiday.

November precipitation in Texas, if we have any.

2 thoughts on “Over the River for Thanksgiving

  1. Writers are a dangerous lot. Spending hours alone with their thoughts while attempting to memorialize them on paper or as data, they are are hesitant but yet yearn to share with others. Over time writers cannot help but expose ever more of themselves.

    As you wrote, Child early on garnered much success as an author of self-helf books and children’s stories. A fairly common route for writers.

    Later in life as her writing grew to expose her thoughts as an abolitionist, friends abandoned her and book sales declined.

    The longer one writes they often confront majorissues. They are truly contributing citizens.


  2. Ah, the thought of being dangerous sounds intriguing! But ideas can be dangerous to prevailing ideas of what is good or acceptable. We must realize that over time fashions and popular thought changes, but good does not. May we recognize what is good and promote only it.


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