Ring Around the Rosie: Sing-Along Song Video for Kids

Sing this song outside where your kids can join hands and dance in a circle!

Sing this song outside, where your kids can join hands and dance in a circle to add to the fun!

Ring around the rosie
A pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down.

Fond childhood memories often center on the fairy tales our parents read to us and the nursery rhyme songs they taught us. We all recall the scary -- sometimes gruesome -- plots of those old tales by the Brothers Grimm. Even songs that sound playful can also turn out to have a darker meaning, as it is with the lyrics to "Ring Around the Rosie." This children's nursery rhyme sounds like innocent fun, but history suggests a more sinister origin.

The song is said to date back either to the late 1340s, when the Black Plague swept through Europe, killing a third of the population, or the 1660s, when the same catastrophic plague hit London and wiped out 60 percent of the city. Children living in a state of such horror, the thinking goes, developed a macabre story with sing-along lyrics that they acted out on the streets of the plague-stricken cities.

Ring around the rosie

The plague usually emerged in the form of a rash, with rose-colored bumps surrounded by red rings all over the victim's body. Children join hands and move in a circle as they sing, giving the lyrics a double meaning.

A pocket full of posies

According to folklore, those afflicted would try to hide the stench of their illness by carrying flowers in their pockets. People also used flowers to freshen the air in the superstitious belief that the illness was caused by bad air. (The plague was actually carried by fleas borne by rats.)

Ashes, ashes

As the body weakened and the lungs became infected, the victim would sneeze and cough repeatedly. Some think "ashes" is a child's interpretation of a sneeze. Others suggest it refers to "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," as the representation of death. It could also refer to the fact that victims' houses were burned to the ground in an effort to stop the plague. Still others say it symbolizes the ashy hue of the victim's skin shortly before death.

We all fall down.

Typically, the children fall over at the end of the song, perhaps reflecting the terrible death toll the plague took on people. The last line can also be taken as a sign of the fatalistic attitude the children had toward death; kids in the Middle Ages were less sheltered than today's boys and girls!

Other versions of the song include first line variations such as "Ring-a-ring o' roses," and "Round a ring of roses," and many variations of "Ashes" such as "Atishoo" (sneeze) or "Asha."

As with most folklore, no one knows the real story behind the lyrics. Some historians question why, if the song pre-dated Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, no mention is found in written form until Kate Greenaway's "Mother Goose, or the Old Nursery Rhymes" was published in 1881. The connection to the plague seems to have been first proposed in 1961 by James Leasor in his book "The Plague and the Fire."

Oral traditions are strong, though, and first explanation is as good as -- and far more interesting than -- the idea that the lyrics are just nonsensical fun.

Copyright © 2011 Meredith Corporation.

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