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Over the River and Through the Wood

“Over the River and through the wood” is a phrase endeared to many that evokes the memory of Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.

Many know it as a poem first, many more know it as a Christmas song.

Christmas was never it’s original intention. It was always, from its title forward, meant to be a tribute to Thanksgiving.

Lydia Maria ChildIt was written by an extraordinary woman named Lydia Maria Child in 1844 – decades before Christmas and Thanksgiving became federal holidays.

Despite that fact, the poem was based on a nostalgic longing for the Thanksgiving holiday celebrations of her New England youth.

Lydia Maria Child was a woman ahead of her time. Born in 1802 she made her voice heard through the power of her pen.

She was an accomplished writer, editor and civil rights activist – in the early 19th century. During her day she would be controversial and even daring in the eyes of some. In the 19th century man’s world she was a force that tackled the prickly topics of slavery, male dominance and white supremacy.

But in the 1840s she turned her pen to children’s poetry for a time, drawing on the memories of her youth.

Her poem “The New England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day” was published in her book Flowers for Children and would, over the course of her lifetime and beyond, transform to ‘Over the river and through the wood’ that we know and love today.

These are the words she originally wrote:

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 ’tis 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 the 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!”
Hurray for Thanskgiving 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 ’tis 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 paw 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, “O, dear, the children are here,
bring pie for everyone.”

Over the river, and through the wood-
now Grandmothers cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

The poem was first set to music in the 1870s by an unknown composer. As it grew in popularity the words were tweaked slightly to invoke memories of Christmas instead of Thanksgiving.

The original words of the poem are important to remember because they testify of what Thanksgiving was in early America. It was a time of great family reunion and feasting. It was a time of religious devotion. It was a time of gathering and gratitude.

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