Guest Author - Jessica Smith
Over the river and through the wood
To Grandfather's house we go!
Few American adults or children could deny knowing the two lines above, nor resist reciting the following lines along to a very catchy musical tune. While this poem is sung in winter, many often lump it into the category of Christmas without realizing that it is, in fact, a Thanksgiving poem. The verses continue, describing a sleigh ride through snow, then tell the "dapple gray" horse to hurry along "for this is Thanksgiving Day".
Though many different versions of this poem exist- slightly different lyrics, verses in different places- the original poem is attributed to Lydia Maria Child. She lived during the 18th century and spent most of her life participating in political activism, most particularly for women's rights. She was a strong woman, and far ahead of her time in regards to her thoughts and opinions on the gender balance between men and women. She also fought for recognition of the rights of slaves and Native Americans- a voice among an unfortunately small minority during the American westward expansion.
Child used her writing as a way to reach more people. Society in general found her words shocking, particularly a novel in which a white woman marries a Native American. She wrote much on the issue of slavery in America, and was entirely against it. These works were fairly well-known and widely read, though not necessarily accepted.
The poem "Over the River and Through the Wood" does not directly reflect any of this. It is simply an aside, a separate entity from Child's other political and incendiary written works. It's an iconic moment, taken out and set on display- a timeless classic to be experienced again and again. The tone is light and happy, the people in it merry and cheerful. It's full of holiday spirit, upbeat and lilting, a tune to whistle while baking holiday cookies, or setting the table for Thanksgiving. It's nice to think of Child, stepping away from her political fights to take the time to really think about and enjoy the holiday season, particularly the holiday in which family gathers together.
With Christmas receiving the bulk of songs and poems in its honor, and with the promotions and decorations always blending over so quickly to this larger holiday, it's nice to think that Thanksgiving has its own very special tune.