The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Over the River and Through the Wood

For Thanksgiving

Words: Lydia Maria Child, "The New-England Boy's Song About Thanksgiving Day" in Flowers for Children, Part II (New York: C. S. Francis & Co., Boston: J. H. Francis, 1844, 1854), pp. 25-28.

For more information, see: The Woman Who Wrote The Winter Favorite (from about.womenshistory) and Lydia Maria Child (from the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography; all links open in a new window at another site)
The poem appeared in Flowers for Children, Vol. 2 in 1844

MIDI / Noteworthy Composer
MIDI and derived Noteworthy Composer score from Laura's MIDI Heaven

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, [sic]
      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 Grandmothers cap I spy! 
      Hurra for the fun! 
      Is the pudding done? 
   Hurra for the pumpkin pie!


The original poem as published in the 1854 edition of Flowers for Children, Part II, pp. 25-28.

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William L. Simon, ed., Reader’s Digest Merry Christmas Songbook (1981)

At one time, "Over the River and Through the Woods" was a favorite song of the Thanksgiving season. It detailed the delights of a sleigh ride to Grandmother’s house and the goodies that would be found there by children and adults alike. But over the years, this jolly tune, which probably dates from the 1870s, has come to be associated with Christmas instead. In an old book of carols, there exists a published version of the song that dates back to 1897 and bears the name "Edw. Trotter, Rev." as composer, but the attribution is somewhat suspect. The book also includes "The First Noel, 'and the Reverend Mr. Trotter also listed himself as composer of that carol and of several other traditional tunes in the collection. Nevertheless, "Over the River" must have been familiar enough that members of Trotter’s congregation would have forgotten its actual composer and been willing to accept their preacher’s word that he wrote it. (Or, possibly, he did.).

The original, 12-verse poem is virtually never heard. Ordinarily, a six-verse (or less) version is sung. The poem was first published in 1844; these lyrics came from an 1854 edition of the book by Ms. Child. It has been freely adapted into a Christmas song, Over the River and Through the Woods - Grandmother.

Here's a pair of interesting coincidences. Lydia Maria Child and James Lord Pierpont, author of "Jingle Bells" ("One Horse Open Sleigh") were both born in Medford, Massachusetts. Both were Unitarians.

Each year, Gene Keyes kindly provides to me a link to a Christmas carol which he has translated into Esperanto. This year, the song is Over the River and Through the Woods, (Trans la Rivero kaj Tra l' Arbar). Links to all of his Christmas carols can be found at Yuletide Carols-Jula Karolaro. Thanks, Gene!

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