The Meaning Behind the Classic Yuletide Carol “Winter Wonderland”

The story behind one of the most well-known famous holiday carols didn’t have the jolliest of beginnings. “Winter Wonderland” was written by local Pennsylvania native Richard Bernhard Smith, first as a poem, while he was being treated for consumption in the 1930s.

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Stationed at the West Mountain Sanitarium in Scranton, Pennsylvania, which closed its doors in 1974, Smith was being treated for tuberculosis at the time. Also known as consumption, tuberculosis, an infection that affects the lungs and can also impact the kidneys, spine, and brain, was a highly contagious disease and the most common cause of death during its peak throughout the 19th century.

First Snowfall

As he was undergoing treatment, Smith entered a contest for jingles and company ads and penned “Winter Wonderland.”

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The meaning behind Smith’s “Winter Wonderland” was inspired by the vision of freshly fallen snow at the park in his hometown of Honesdale, Pennsylvania. He wrote the lyrics, centered around magical scenes and a couple’s romantic winter outing.

Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin’?
In the lane, snow is glistenin’
A beautiful sight
We’re happy tonight
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

Gone away is the bluebird
Here to stay is a new bird
He sings a love song
As we go along
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland

Parson Brown

“Winter Wonderland” mentions Parson Brown, a fictitious character representing parsons, who were independent priests who would travel around the country performing interdenominational services and ceremonies.

In the meadow, we can build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, “Are you married?”
We’ll say, “No, man
But you can do the job when you’re in town”

Starting a Holiday Standard

The song was later composed by Felix Bernard and recorded by Richard Himber in 1934, and “Winter Wonderland” evolved into one of the most classic Christmas carols. That same year, bandleader Guy Lombardo And His Royal Canadians recorded the song and took it to the No. 2 on the Billboard charts.

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Nearly 90 years since it was first recorded, “Winter Wonderland” is a yuletide classic and has been covered by more than 200 artists. Everyone from Johnny Matthis, Tony Bennett, Ringo Starr, Bing Crosby, Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton, Darlene Love, Neil Diamond, Harry Connick Jr., and Jewel performed the song.

In 2007, the Eurythmics’ rendition of “Winter Wonderland” was listed as the most-played holiday song by the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

Later on, we’ll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walking in a winter wonderland


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