Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

The Story Behind "Over the River and Through the Wood"

“Over the River and Through the Wood” was originally published in 1844 as a poem written by Lydia Maria Child. The poem was published in Child’s book of poems Flowers for ChildrenVolume 2, and was originally titled “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.” In time, Child’s poem was set to music by an unknown composer, and over the years many children have grown up singing the song in school or community holiday programs.

Traditionally “Over the River and Through the Wood” is sung as a Thanksgiving song, in which the original lyrics say, “Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!” rather than “Hurrah for Christmas Day!” Another lyrical change was that the original poem read “Grandfather’s house” rather than “Grandmother’s house.” The original poem also contained 12 verses.

In a behind the scenes video about the Choir’s new Hallelujah! album, which features “Over the River and Through the Wood,” associate director Ryan Murphy discussed his new arrangement of the song. He explained, “We did what’s called “asymmetrical meter” in it, which makes it feel like it’s a little bit off-kilter. … It was a lot of fun to do the arrangement.”

Choir director Mack Wilberg added, “One of the reasons that I thought that this might make a good selection for this concert is that the piece that followed it, which is by Prokofiev, ‘The Troika,’ there’s sort of a similarity in riding a sleigh and going through the woods.” And then he corrected himself with a laugh, continuing, “Wood—I always thought it was ‘Over the River and Through the Woods.’ I think everybody did but, I remember when I saw Ryan’s arrangement I said, ‘You’ve left the ‘s’ off of woods and he said, ‘No, this is correct.’” “I wanted to be true to the original in that respect,” added Murphy. (This conversation takes place starting at 11:29 in the video below.)


Over the River and Through the Wood (Lyrics)

Over the river and through the wood,
to Grandmother'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—
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 day of play!
Oh hear the bells ring, "Ting-a-ling,"
Hurrah for Christmas Day!

Hurrah for Christmas Day!

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 Christmas 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,
trot fast my dapple gray!
Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound!
For this is Christmas Day.

Hurray for Christmas Day!


Over the River and Through the Wood (Original 12-Verse Poem)

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, "Oh, dear, the children are here,
bring pie for everyone."

Over the river and through the wood—
now Grandmother's cap I spy!
Hurrah for the fun! Is the pudding done?
Hurrah for the pumpkin pie!