Happy Thanksgiving

Over the river, and through the wood, / To grandfather’s house we go.” Most people know those first few lines but ask them to recite the rest of the poem and they may get stuck. Its proper title is “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day” and was written by American poet Lydia Maria Child. Although little known today, Child edited the first children’s magazine, wrote one of the earliest American novels, and wrote extensively about the abolition of slavery. Born in 1802, Child lived in Massachusetts until she died in 1880.

Here is the poem that was adapted into the song that we always sang as we got close to my grandmother’s house in West Virginia. Every other Thanksgiving, many moons ago, my sister and I would go with our father to his home state for the annual holiday. Of course, I always imagined the car was that sleigh, even if there wasn’t any snow along the way.

Over the river and through the woods,
To grandfather’s* house we go;
The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh,
Thru the white and drifted snow, oh!

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

Over the river and thru the wood,
To have a first-rate play;
Oh, hear the bell ring, “Ting-a-ling-ling!”
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day-ay!

Over the river and thru the woods,
Trot fast my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting hound,
For this is Thanksgiving Day!

Over the river and through the woods,
And straight through the barnyard gate.
We seem to go extremely slow,
It is so hard to wait!

Over the river and through the woods,
Now Grandmother’s cap I spy!
Hurrah for fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!

The song has slightly different lyrics, and some of what we sang I think my father sort of, er, made up. The only version I could find of the song on YouTube that has almost all the lyrics adapted from Ms. Child’s poem was made for little kids. But, hey, we all have a little kid inside us, right?

I loved singing that song with my father and sister, and thank goodness his rich, true tenor would hold the notes against the slip and slide of our young voices. And the best part is that he didn’t care when we slipped. He just kept singing and smiling. That helped build the excitement as we got closer and closer to his mother’s house and all the people waiting there to greet us and share a meal with us.

It was perfect.

I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving, if you celebrate that holiday. This year, we can cautiously gather with family and friends. COVID is still out there, and sadly, the number of cases is rising, so be safe and enjoy. I will gather with a few of my kids, unlike last year when I was alone and had no idea of how to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for one person. My heart is happier this year.

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