More Thanksgiving Music

There is more Thanksgiving music! I find it fascinating to look at the stories behind music we use – to see how long the music has been around, and to find out the story behind it. I found some interesting things for these Thanksgiving music selections!


We Gather Together

A wartime celebration song as a Thanksgiving hymn? From the 1500’s? Very interesting! Here’s the story. Originally written in the late 1500’s, Valerius Adrianus first published the song in 1626. The melody for the song, Kremser, an old Dutch folk melody dates back even further. Evidently, this was quite a popular melody, and had other words set to it originally.

In the late 1500’s the Dutch had been fighting against the Spanish for some years. The Dutch were trying to regain their political freedom, their religious freedom, and at least some of their land from Spain. A strategic and important battle of the Eighty Year’s War occurred at the city of Turnhout in 1597. This song was written to celebrate the Dutch victory over the Spanish after that battle.

So how did this military victory song make it to America and into our hymnbooks? Although the Pilgrims most likely did not bring this song over with them, they possibly knew this song, since many of them lived in Holland for several years prior to coming to America. Most likely, the song traveled across the ocean with Dutch settlers in the early 1600’s.

We Gather Together was a popular song in the Dutch Reformed communities. For many years the Dutch Reformed church sang only Psalms in their worship services. When, in 1937, the Dutch Reformed began to include hymns in their services, We Gather Together was the first hymn in their new hymnbooks.

Theodore Baker translated the words for this song into English in 1894. He used the song for an anthem entitled “Prayer for Thanksgiving.” It was included in the Methodist-Episcopal hymnal in 1935.

Since the song has some military connections, it became very popular during the times of the two World Wars. There are also themes in the song about God’s blessings, His presence with us during difficult times, spiritual victories, and God’s sovereignty.

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Jingle Bells

That’s right – Jingle Bells was not written as a Christmas song, even though it is used as one! Although this is one of the best-known American songs in the world, there is controversy surrounding its origins.

The writer of the song, James Lord Pierpont, was a bit of a rebel. (You may recognize the last name – His nephew was J. P. Morgan, of the banking industry.) He ran away from boarding school when he was young, did not get along well with his father, took off to California to try and make his fortune during the Gold Rush. He later ended up as an organist for a church in Savannah, Georgia.

The when and the where of the writing of this song is where the controversy lies. Some claim Pierpont wrote the song in 1850, in Medford, MA. Others claim he wrote the song in 1857, In Savannah, GA. One historian says Pierpont could not have written the song in Massachusetts in 1850 because he was still in California at the time. Very likely the song was written around 1857 in Massachusetts, shortly before Pierpont moved to Savannah, Georgia.

Some say that the song was first performed by a Sunday School choir for a Thanksgiving program, but others claim that the song was not suitable at all for Sunday School children to be singing. We do know that it was first performed in Boston in September of 1857. Surprisingly, there is no mention of any holiday in the song. Rather, Pierpont was remembering sleigh rides from his childhood.

You might find this interesting – Two astronauts aboard Gemini 6 in 1965 performed Jingle Bells from space. Tom Stafford and “Wally” Schirra had smuggled a small harmonica and a small set of bells onto their spacecraft, and “performed” the song for Mission Control shortly before Christmas that year.

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Come, Ye Thankful People, Come

This is a much more traditional and standard Thanksgiving hymn, as far as its background goes. Henry Alford, an Anglican minister and the writer of this hymn, published the song in 1844. Originally the song had seven stanzas, but today most books only include four verses.

The words to the song have been altered through the years, even though Alford was not in favor of several of the changes. Harvest Home, a festival celebrated for centuries in England, is a time of celebration and thankfulness for a successful growing season and harvest. Traditionally people brought “offerings” of grain and produce to the church and arranged it in a bountiful display. After the celebratory service all the food from the display was given to the area poor. So the song reflects a thankful attitude and an expression of gratitude to God for bountiful blessings.

As we celebrate this Thanksgiving season, we would do well to consider all the great blessings we are given every day!

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Did you miss our other discussion of Thanksgiving songs? Read it here:   Thanksgiving Songs

Thanksgiving Songs? Who Knew?

Did you know there are specific Thanksgiving songs? We are all familiar with Christmas music, and patriotic music, but Thanksgiving music? Not so much. We are going to look at three Thanksgiving songs this week and learn the back story of each of them.

The Doxology - Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
The Doxology – Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

“The Doxology”

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him, all creatures here below;
Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Have you ever sung this in church? When I was growing up we sang this every Sunday morning after the offering. But I never really thought about the words very much. But how appropriate these words are for Thanksgiving. A doxology (and there are several) is simply a song giving glory or praise to God.

Thomas Ken, an Anglican clergyman wrote this doxology in 1709. It has been around for a long time! He wrote several hymns for the students at Winchester College to use throughout the day. This Doxology was included at the end of both his Morning Hymn and his Evening Hymn. Thomas Ken had an excellent reputation in both his work at the college and in his service for the English royalty.  Listen Here

Over the River and Through the Woods
Over the River and Through the Woods

“Over the River and Through the Wood”

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh
Through the white and drifted snow.

Over the river, and through the wood,
To Grandfather’s house away!
We would not stop
For doll or top,
For ‘t is Thanksgiving Day.

Over the river, and through the wood,
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

While many may think of this song as a Christmas song, it was actually written for Thanksgiving. Its original title was “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day.” The original words say, “Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day!” as opposed to “Hurrah for Christmas Day!” This song was originally written as a poem, and it had twelve verses. At some point this poem was set to music but the composer is unknown.

Lydia Maria Child wrote the original poem. It was published in 1844. She was a well-known author during the time leading up to the Civil War. She wrote a magazine for children, popular books for housewives, and even some novels. One of her novels got her into trouble because it featured an interracial couple – a New England woman and a Native American. She also wrote against slavery, and in favor of the African- Americans.  Listen Here

Let All Things Now Living
Let All Things Now Living

“Let All Things Now Living”

Let all things now living a song of thanksgiving
To God the creator triumphantly raise.
Who fashioned and made us, protected and stayed us,
Who still guides us on to the end of our days.
His banners are o’er us, His light goes before us,
A pillar of fire shining forth in the night.
Till shadows have vanished and darkness is banished
As forward we travel from light into light.

His law he enforces, the stars in their courses
And sun in its orbit obediently shine;
The hills and the mountains, the rivers and fountains,
The deeps of the ocean proclaim him divine.
We too should be voicing our love and rejoicing;
With glad adoration a song let us raise
Till all things now living unite in thanksgiving:
“To God in the highest, Hosanna and praise!”

This song may not be as familiar to you as the others, but it is a great song of praise. And that, really, is what Thanksgiving is all about – praise and thanks. The melody used for this hymn of thanksgiving is an old Welsh folk melody, “Ash Grove.” This melody dates to the 1700’s.

Katherine K. Davis wrote the words for “Let All Things Now Living,” possibly as early as the 1920’s. Katherine Davis was from Missouri and was a very accomplished musician. She studied composition, piano, and music theory, taught at both the high school and college levels. She wrote more than 800 vocal and instrumental compositions, even some operas! Ms. Davis lived until 1980.  Listen Here

While you may not know this song, I am pretty sure you know something else that she wrote. Katherine Davis was also the composer of “The Drummer Boy.”

I have three more Thanksgiving songs for you next week. One will certainly surprise you!

Thanksgiving Music - Yes!
Thanksgiving Music – Yes!