Who is Parson Brown from 'Winter Wonderland' – and is it a real person?

23 November 2023, 14:52

Michael Buble is one of many singers to perform 'Winter Wonderland'
Michael Buble is one of many singers to perform 'Winter Wonderland'. Picture: Alamy/NBC

By Sofia Rizzi

We all sing the cheery tune at Christmas, but do we actually know what we're singing about? Turns out Parson Brown has more meaning behind it than we thought.

Originally sung by Richard Himber, 'Winter Wonderland' has become a classic Christmas song covered by over 200 different artists, including Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga and Bing Crosby.

'Winter Wonderland' song history: Who wrote it?

The song was written in 1934 by Felix Bernard and lyricist Richard B Smith. It tells the story of a snowy scene filled with sleigh bells, snowmen and crackling wood fires.

Smith was reportedly inspired to write the song after seeing Honesdale's Central Park covered in snow. Smith had written the lyrics while being treated for tuberculosis.

The song was originally recorded by Richard Himber and his Hotel Ritz-Carlton Orchestra in 1934, with Joey Nash on vocals:

Winter Wonderland

Due to its seasonal theme, it is often regarded as a Christmas song in the Northern Hemisphere, though Christmas itself is never actually mentioned in the lyrics.

However, there is one line of the original lyrics that isn't very clear for the average 2021 listener:

'In the meadow, we can build a snowman, and pretend that he is Parson Brown'

The following lyrics are:
'He'll say, Are you married?
We'll say, No man
But you can do the job
When you're in town.'

Michael Bublé - Winter Wonderland [Official HD]

What is a Parson and was Parson Brown a real person?

Collins dictionary defines a Parson as 'a priest in the Church of England with responsibility for a small local area', which explains the lyrics about tying the knot.

However, Parson Brown wasn't actually a real person – not that we know of, anyway.

There was no prevalent Parson Brown during the 20th century, so for now we'll assume that the lyricist decided on a name that fitted in with the lyrics.

So, there isn't a huge mystery behind the lyrics – more like some dated language that could do with a re-vamp.

In fact, some versions of the song have changed the lyrics to 'In the meadow, we can build a snowman, and pretend that he's a circus clown'.