Lydia Maria Child: Over the River and Through the Wood

The Winter Favorite and The Woman Who Wrote It

American winter scene, a country cabin, lithorgaph
Currier and Ives image: American country home. SuperStock / Getty Images

"Over the river and through the wood" ... this standard winter holiday song is familiar to millions. Originally published Flowers for Children, Vol. 2 in 1844, the poem has long outshone the rest of the poems in that volume. The formal title is "A Boy's Thanksgiving Day" though it's also often used as a Christmas song. The words are below, in both the better-known 6-verse version and the original 12 verses.

And who wrote this winter favorite?

A few will know that the author was a woman named Lydia Maria Child. Perhaps her name is even printed with the song's lyrics. But even if the name of the writer appears with the verses, few people today know or remember who Lydia Maria Child was.

She was one of the earliest American women to earn a living from her writing. She was known in her time as the writer of one of the most popular domestic advice books, The Frugal Housewife, later renamed The American Frugal Housewife to distinguish it from a similarly-named book published in England. She later published other popular advice books, including The Mother's Book and A Little Girl's Own Book.

Child also published Juvenile Miscellany, an early American magazine for children. It is in this volume that A Boy's Christmas first appeared.

Her earliest novel, Hobomok, was one of the first American novels to depict pioneer life.

It was also notable for its sympathetic portrayal of a Native American hero.

When Maria (she detested the first name Lydia) turned to anti-slavery writing with her Appeal for the Class of Americans Called African, much of her devoted audience turned against her. She later edited the Anti-Slavery Standard and wrote a series of anti-slavery tracts.

She edited the autobiography of ex-slave Harriet Jacobs. After the Civil War, she edited and published The Freedmen's Book for the education of newly-freed slaves.

She also turned to other topics, including a survey of the history of the world's religions and inspirational essays. In several later books, both fictional and political, she returned to issues of justice for Native Americans and African Americans.

Her most important contribution to history is probably The Appeal, but her little poem about winter holidays in New England is far better known today.

A Boy's Thanksgiving Day (6 verse version)

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
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-
when Grandmother sees us come,
She will say, "o, dear, the children are here,
bring a pie for every one."

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!

A Boy's Thanksgiving Day - 12 Verse Version

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!

More women's history biographies, by name:

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