A Sleigh Ride on Christmas Morning

Maryann Nunnally, Contributing Writer

Maryann Nunnally


Not long ago I was happy to participate in a choir practice when we began singing “Sleigh bells ring; are you listening?  In the lane snow is glistening.” I was instantly transported to a time when my brother and I were youngsters on a Christmas morning.

We must have been old enough to enjoy Christmas, but not to attend school yet. After all the gifts were opened, I clearly remember mother hurrying both of us to put on our snowpants and heavy woolen coats. Neither one of us could understand why we were dressing to go outside. Usually, mom kept us in after breakfast until there was some sun shining outside, and we could play for a little while in the snow without freezing. But this morning, mom helped us with scarves, hats, boots and mittens until we could barely waddle around. Then she put us out on the front porch and said, “Listen!” That was all she said.  In a few minutes we clearly heard the jingle bells.  Far down our country lane, we could just make out two huge work horses plowing slowly through the deep, deep snow.

In just another few moments we could see a huge sleigh and driver coming closer to us. When the horses reached the driveway to the house, we saw it was Mr. Tyler, an old farmer who lived about five miles away in the country. Our father delivered coal to him, and they were good friends.  Mother then explained that Mr. Tyler was going to take us around town in his sleigh. Ping-pong size bells hung along the side of the sleigh, and more on the horses’ harnesses.

The sleigh was not a passenger sleigh, sleek with curved up steel runners, but instead was a wooden box with flat wooden runners. I expect that it was used to carry heavy logs out of the woods or large bales of hay from the snow-covered fields. The Clydesdale horses we see these days pulling the brewery wagon are similar to Mr. Tyler’s pair pulling the huge box sleigh. However, I don’t think they were very graceful or very fast as their purpose was not for show but for hard work.

Mother walked out to the sleigh and helped Wally and me climb into the box. Then she covered both of us up with large brown blankets, and we were warm enough to make it through the cold of the north pole. Mr. Tyler spoke to mom for a few minutes then clicking to the horses, we were off on a trip through our little country town. Because it was Christmas, snow plows had not made their trips around town, so streets were blanketed with lovely fresh snow.

Soon other kids came out of their homes. Mr. Tyler pulled up the horses, and we were joined by a dozen kids bundled up like Wally and me.  It was then that I realized that the jingle bells on the horses and all along the sides of the sleigh were calling parents and children out to the streets.  Mr. Tyler drove the horses slowly around the four corners that we called “up-street.” The street light on that corner blinked red and green, a perfect set of colors for Christmas morning. Slowly the gray clouds parted and the morning sun shone on the new snow. Everything we saw was covered with glistening diamonds: bushes, trees, buildings and snow banks.

All too soon, Mr. Tyler began dropping kids off at their houses, and finally Wally and I were the last. Mom again appeared at the side of the sleigh and handed Mr. Tyler a hot cup of coffee. Dad came out from the barn and shook Mr. Tyler’s hand and said, “Thank you so much, Bert. I know the kids really loved this trip in your sleigh.”

“Glad to do it for you, Walt.  Good thing we had enough snow so I could drive up here.” Bert replied, and then I understood that Dad must have asked Mr. Tyler to bring his sleigh and horses and take us for a Christmas morning ride.

Mom helped Wally and me out of the sleigh, and the smell of roasting chicken greeted us when we went back into our little house. My older sisters were setting the table for Christmas dinner as mom helped Wally and me out of our snow clothing. When I think of it now, in many ways it was one of the most perfect Christmas mornings that I have ever had.

Over the years, I have had professional sleigh rides in upstate New York and Vermont, but none will ever stay in my memory as the sleigh ride with bells jingling and snow glistening around my hometown in Mr. Tyler’s wooden work sleigh.