Lyric Analysis - Winter Wonderland

Lyric Analysis - Winter Wonderland

Full disclosure: While writing this analysis I listened to five different versions of this song on repeat. In order, versions by Lena Horne, Amy Grant, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., and Diana Krall. No, I do not have a favorite. After awhile they all blend together and sound sort of like a vaguely jazzy choir in my head. I really could have listened to probably fifty-seven more versions since this is one of those songs that is perpetually and always added to Christmas albums. There is nothing new that can be done with this song except maybe for Jimi Cringle to do a heavy metal version which is sadly lacking. Get on it, Jimi.


Sleigh bells ring

Are you listening

I think this song is presuming we are outdoors. And in a more rural setting. Sleigh bells aren’t something I have a lot of practical experience with except in the context of Christmas songs and snowy literature. The White Witch of Narnia did not have bells on her sleigh because she had banished Christmas, you see, but when Aslan neared and kick-started the thaw which allowed Santa back in, sleigh bells returned with him. So sleigh bells, to me, are not a practical thing so much as a good times holiday thing. Right away I’m in a festive mood because: sleighs with bells. So yeah, I’m listening, song. Continue.

In the lane

Snow is glistening

A beautiful sight, We're happy tonight

I mean this hits pretty close to home. I live in Edmonton. Snow is definitely glistening in the lane and everywhere else. It’s sorta beautiful if you squint and don’t think about the drive in to work tomorrow. I’m relatively happy tonight because I’m indoors and full of hot dinner so... I’ll give you this, song. But I’m happier thinking about the bells than the snow, to be honest.

Walking in a winter wonderland

Sure, this is a thing people do. Lunatic people with a penchant for frostbite and a weird disdain for the indoors.

Gone away, is the blue bird

Because he is smarter than the rest of us.

Here to stay, is the new bird

Not having a background in ornithology I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of bird flew into winter while all the other (smarter) birds flew south so I googled it. As it turns out Canada apparently has a lot of birds that stick it out year-round. They don’t so much fly in for the beautiful winters as they just choose not to leave. The top ten wintery birds are black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, finches (house, purple), northern cardinals, blue jays, American goldfinches, common redpolls, brown creepers, cedar waxwings, and red-breasted nuthatches. Along with house sparrows and woodpeckers and so on, there are a lot of birds just chilling (PUN) over the holidays. So there you go: the more you know.

He sings a love song,

Though, do creepers really sing LOVE songs?

As we go along

Walking in a winter wonderland

We’ll assume it’s more of a beggar’s call: “spare some seeds, lady?” because conditions here can be dire.

In the meadow we can build a snowman

And pretend that he is Parson Brown

Lesson time! YAY! ‘Parson Brown’ refers to parsons who were Protestant or Anglican ministers who went town to town performing, among other things, wedding ceremonies for those who did not have a local minister. Parson Brown was not a specific real person; it’s more like ‘John Doe’ as a generalized term. In this reference, Parson Brown is just an example of a parson made out of snow butting into your love life on your walk. Let’s hope you are walking with your loved one, as the song assumes, and not, say, with your boss or something awkward.

He'll say are you married

We'll say no man

But you can do the job When you're in town

I mean: he’s made of snow. How legal would the union be? Not to mention the weird fixation with getting all wintery walkers hitched pronto. I’m not sure where you’re heading with this, song.

Later on We'll conspire

As we dream by the fire

‘Conspire’ is a more suitable rhyme than ‘perspire’ which is probably more accurate. Romantically well-played, song.

To face unafraid

The plans that we've made

I assume the plans that were made were spontaneous wedding plans which, yes, might strike fear in the hearts of lesser couples given that what started as an innocent freezing walk ended up at a snowman-officiated altar. But I’m glad we’re facing our fears and solidifying our plans now. Nothing like a little fireside rumination to shore up intent, am I right?

Walking in a winter wonderland

Sleigh bells ring

Are you listening

In the lane

Snow is glistening

A beautiful sight,

We're happy tonight

Walking in a winter wonderland

Taken as a whole this paints a very Currier and Ives portrait, does it not? “What is Currier and Ives, VampireNomad?” Well, curious kittens, the Christmas standard ‘Sleigh Ride’ contains the lyrics “it’ll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives” and indeed from 1834 to 1907 the American printmaking firm of Currier and Ives produced high quality lithographs of works from artists. Often on a pastoral or landscape theme, many popular prints were snowy winter scenes involving sleighs and so on. BOOM: two lyric analyses in one! Don’t say I’m not a giver.

Gone away, is the blue bird

Here to stay, is the new bird

The brown creeper or maybe the blue jay. Brown creepers really like cedar berries and blue jays are reportedly fond of cracked corn so if you’re wondering what to get for the winter bird in your life, those are two solid ideas.

He sings a love a song

As we go along

I think the only bird song I’ve ever had follow me on any walk is the sinister cawing of crows. Snow White I’m not. This song is assuming the walkers attract a more romantical-style bird than the type I normally associate with.

Walking in a winter wonderland

In the meadow we can build a snowman

And pretend that he's a circus clown

I mean I’m not aching to marry but if my only snowman options are a parson or a clown, guess which one I’m choosing?

We'll have lots of fun with Mr. Snowman

Mr. Snowman the circus clown. I dare you not to think of It. Or Twisty from American Horror Story. How romantic is this song now, hmmm?

Until the other kiddies knock him down

Kids are jerks, man.

When it snows ain't it thrilling

Though your nose, gets a chilling

All things considered a frozen nose is the least of your worries given that you narrowly escaped getting spontaneously hitched and murdered by a clown on this walk. Truth be told, I’ll take a little chill.

We'll frolic and play,

the Eskimo way

This song was written in 1934 and this is where it shows the most. Widely ‘Eskimo’ is now considered to be a derogatory term for Inuit people. And this is definitely true in Canada. According to my cursory research, however, in Alaska the word ‘Inuit’ is not preferred by the Yupit people mainly because they are NOT Inuit and the word doesn’t exist in their language. They prefer to be called Eskimo. So this lyric has kind of come full circle from innocent to offensive and back to acceptable again because song-writers Felix Bernard and Richard Smith were American and American Inuit are Alaskan Eskimos so Eskimo is the right word to use. (Though not in Canada.)

Walking in a winter wonderland

Walking in a winter wonderland

Did you know this song has been recorded by two hundred different artists? And I only listened to five while writing. I feel like I’ve let you all down. I’ll do better next time, I promise.

 

- Corinne Simpson