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November 12, 2012

A Thanksgiving Celebration in Song

Douglas Spotted Eagle, ‘Sunrise Prayer’

Eagle Dance, Larry Yazzie and the Native Pride Dancers. Reif Center, Grand Rapids, MN, 2011


Johnny Cash, ‘Thanksgiving Prayer,’ from Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, ‘God of Our Fathers’

Although originally written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States Declaration of Independence in 1876, the 19th Century American Christian hymn “God of Our Fathers” has become an all-purpose holiday exaltation.

The hymn was written by Daniel C. Roberts, a priest in the Protestant Episcopal Church serving as vicar of St. Paul’s Church in Concord, New Hampshire. Roberts had served in the American Civil War in the 84th Ohio Infantry.

In 1892, Roberts sent the hymn anonymously to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church to be considered by a group tasked with revising the Episcopal hymnal. If the group accepted his hymn, Roberts said he would send them his name. The commission approved it. The hymnal editor and organist George W. Warren were to choose a hymn for the celebration of the Centennial of the United States Constitution. They chose Roberts’ lyrics, which were originally sung to a tune called “Russian Hymn.” Warren wrote a new tune called “National Hymn.” (Source: The Center for Church Music, Songs and Hymns)

Celtic Women, ‘We Gather Together’


Often sung at American churches the day before Thanksgiving, ‘We Gather Together’ is a Christian hymn of Dutch origin written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius as ‘Wilt heden nu treden’ to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. It was originally set to a Dutch folk tune.

At the time the hymn was written, the Dutch were engaged in a war of national liberation against the Catholic King Philip II of Spain. ‘Wilt heden nu treden,’ ‘We gather together’ resonated because under the Spanish King, Dutch Protestants were forbidden to gather for worship. The hymn first appeared in print in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs, Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck.

The hymn is customarily performed to a tune known as ‘Kremser,’ from Eduard Kremser’s 1877 score arrangement and lyric translation of Wilt Heden Nu Treden into Latin and German. The modern English text was written by Theodore Baker in 1894.

According to the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, ‘We Gather Together’’s first appearance in an American hymnal was in 1903. It had retained popularity among the Dutch, and when the Dutch Reformed Church in North America decided in 1937 to abandon the policy that they had brought with them to the New World in the 17th century of singing only psalms and add hymns to the church service, “We Gather Together” was chosen as the first hymn in the first hymnal.

According to Michael Hawn, professor of sacred music at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, ‘by World War I, we started to see ourselves in this hymn,’ and the popularity increased during World War II, when ‘the wicked oppressing’ were understood to include Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

This hymn was sung at the Opening of the Funeral Mass for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. (Source: Wikipedia)

Mormon Tabernacle Choir, ‘Come Ye Thankful People, Come,’ November 22, 2009

‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ is considered to be one of the most choice harvest and thanksgiving hymns in all of the hymnals of Christian singing. It was written for the English harvest festivals, a movable feast which varies according to the harvest time in different villages that celebrate it.

The hymn writer, Henry Dean Alford, is regarded as a gifted, Christian leader of the 19th century, a distinguished theologian and scholar. He was also a writer, poet, artist and musician. The composer is George J. Elvey, a long-time organist at the Windsor, Royal Castle.

One of the major interests of the writer, Henry Alford, was hymnology. He translated and composed numerous hymns which he published in his Psalms and Hymns (1844,) The Year of Praise (1867) and Poetical Works (1852 and 1868). Of his many works, including ‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ ‘Forward! Be our Watchword’ and ‘Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand,’ only ‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ is still in use in most evangelical hymnals.

‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ first appeared in Alford’s Psalms and Hymns in 1844. Originally, it was meant to be a harvest song, and titled ‘After Harvest’ with seven stanzas. Only four remained in common use.

From the four stanzas that remained, ‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ is well taken as a meaningful thanksgiving song with its related significance:

Stanza One: An invitation and exhortation to give thanks to God, in His earthly temple which is God’s Church, and for His care and provision to humankind’s needs.

Stanzas Two and Three: They are Alford’s commentaries on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares as recorded in the book of St Matthew.

Stanza Four: A prayer for the Lord’s return, a culminating event that Alford sees as an ultimate show of God’s goodness in His purpose of humankind’s redemption.

Henry Alford

Henry Alford was born on October 7, 1810 in London. His ancestry came from generations of respected clergymen in the Anglican Church and he followed in their footsteps. He became Dean of Canterbury Cathedral at 47, and remained in the position until his death in January 12, 1871. He was also a prominent Greek scholar.

The composer of the tune titled ‘St. George’s, Windsor’ was George Job Elvey (March 27, 1816-December 9, 1893), an organist. He served as organist for 47 years at the historic, Royal Chapel at Windsor Castle in England. He originally composed the music for another text. In 1861, the tune first appeared appeared with Alford’s text in the Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1871.

‘Come, Ye Thankful People, Come’ is found in nearly published hymnal, most especially, Evangelical hymnals, to the present time.






1. Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;

All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.

God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;

Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

2. All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;

Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.

First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;

Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.


3. For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;

From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,

Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;

But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.


4. Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;

Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,

There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;

Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Thanksgiving Song,’ from her album Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas.

George Winston, ‘Thanksgiving’

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973). Music by Vince Guaraldi.

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