John Larrysson's Column: Winter Wonderland

One of the most popular Christmas songs is Winter Wonderland. It does not contain as many old words as other such songs. However within the words is an adult topic.

One less common word is parson. A parson was an independent Protestant minister who was not associated with any specific place. The word parson is thought to have come from the Latin persona ecclesiae meaning 'person of the church'.

In the pioneering days of North America, they often travelled over large areas performing religious services and ceremonies because nobody else was available to do so. Very often young people in remote and wild places had a friend perform the marriage services, before the couple shared a bed. They intended to go to a real parson when one was available. In this song a young man and woman walk in the winter weather and plan to get married. In the song they said they will wait for the parson. (Although I wouldn’t bet on it! They made a pretend parson out of snow!)

audio 1

A meadow (Old English spelling: madwe) is originally a low-lying grassy field where a pond has been filled in by years of water-plant growth, death and decomposition creating a rich soil. Meadows were prone to flooding and more valuable crops were not trusted to them. More recently, meadows can also be any grassy field.

A lane (Old English spelling: lane and lanu) is a narrow country road. Normally cars would not be able to pass each other, without turning off to the side. Lantau island's narrow roads are lanes. Modern roads are wider and each driving width is called a lane.

To conspire (Old French spelling: conspire – literally meaning to breathe together) is when people secretly plan to do something illegal or socially unacceptable. The use of this word is another hint about maybe not waiting for the parson.

audio 2

The song, Winter Wonderland was written by a sick young man who was trying to cheer himself up. In the early 1930's, Richard Smith (1901-1935) was slowly dying of consumption (tuberculosis). He dreamed about playing outside in the snow and flirting with young ladies. So he wrote the poem Winter Wonderland. He showed the poem to his friend Felix Bernard (1897-1944). To cheer up his sick friend, Felix wrote music for it and turned the poem into a song. Richard died shortly afterwards.

There is a lack of snowman building in Hong Kong, due to the naturally warm weather. However there are still many young couples making similar plans for the future.


audio 3


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

Gone away is the bluebird

Here to stay is a new bird

He sings a love song as we go along

Walking in a winter wonderland

In the meadow we can build a snowman

We'll 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

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

In the meadow

We can build a snowman

And pretend that he's a circus clown

We'll have lots of fun

With mister snowman

Until the other kids

Come knock him down

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

Walking in a winter wonderland

We'll be walking in a winter,

Winter wonderland


by John Larrysson

[email protected]

A native English speaker who has been teaching practical English in Hong Kong for over two decades.


NOTE:Starting in 2016, this column has been published once every two weeks, on every other Tuesday.

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