Was Parson Brown from "Winter Wonderland" a Real Person?

While listening to "Winter Wonderland," Ashley started wondering about the mysterious Parson Brown.

Ashley Dodge, assistant to
2-minute read

married snowmen

The other day, while humming “Winter Wonderland,” these two lines started to make me wonder: Who was Parson Brown?

“In the meadow we can build a snowman,

 and pretend that he is Parson Brown” 

Was he someone of cultural significance at the time the carol was written? At first glance, and looking at the lyrics that follow, it seems as if “Parson Brown” would be a minister: 

“He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ 

 We’ll say, ‘No, man!

But you can do the job when you’re in town.' ” 

During the time when the song was written, parsons (a term for Protestant or Anglican ministers) would travel from town to town, performing wedding ceremonies for those who did not have a local minister of their own faith. 

But is there any significance to “Parson Brown”? It seems it could either have been a specific parson the couple knew came to their town or a placeholder title similar to “John Doe.”  As far as I can tell, there was no famous Parson Brown in the 1900s.

As a side note, have you noticed that there are two versions of the bridge in “Winter Wonderland”?  A 1953 version replaces “Parson Brown” with “circus clown”: 

“In the meadow we can build a snowman, 

And pretend that he’s a circus clown.” 

This was done, apparently, to make the song more child-friendly. Wikipedia also suggests that the change occurred because traveling parsons were no longer part of the American culture scene. 

Now it’s your turn. What do you know about “Parson Brown”? 





Snowman image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Correction: This article originally said "Winter Wonderland" was written in the 18th century.

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