Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Hymnology We Gather Together

Vrolijke gedenkdagen

(Happy Thanksgiving in Dutch)

vintage Pilgrim illustration

We Gather Together Thanksgiving Hymn

We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;
He chastens and hastens His will to make known.
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing.
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

Beside us to guide us, our God with us joining,
Ordaining, maintaining His kingdom divine;
So from the beginning the fight we were winning;
Thou, Lord, were at our side, all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised

close up of a Chrysanthemum, November Flower of the Month

'We Gather Together' is a traditional Dutch hymn sung in Thanksgiving Day services. It is as an expression of thanksgiving to God as defender and guide throughout the past year. The original text writer is unknown, written at the end of the 16th century to celebrate the Dutch freedom from the Spanish domination.
vintage Dutch children illustrations

To appreciate this hymn, it is necessary to know its historical background. For many years, Holland had been under the scourge of Spain. In 1576, Antwerp was captured and sacked by the Spanish armies. Nine years later, it was captured again by the Spanish and all of the Protestant citizens were exiled.

'Wreck of the San Felipe - 1576'  by Gordon Miller

These historical events can be seen from the references within the hymn's text,
 that God will continue to defend:

"The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing," (in first stanza)
"so from the beginning the fight we were winning," (in second stanza)
"and pray that Thou still our defender will be." (in final stanza)
Many other Dutch cities suffered similar fates. William the Silent, one of the revered leaders of the struggle against Spain was eventually murdered by a Catholic assassin.

'William the Silent'

Loutherbourg, Spanish Armada against the Dutch, 1568-1648

 His youngest son, Frederick Henry, Prince of Orange, assumed the leadership for more than a quarter century. His rule was called the great golden age of prosperity where rich post-reformation culture developed throughout Holland.

'Motley's Dutch Nation' by John Lothrop Motley
 with photo of first royals of the 'Dutch Republic'

Commerce was expanded, and this was the period of great Dutch art, with such prominent painters as Rembrandt and Vermeer. In 1648, the Spanish endeavors to control Holland were finally destroyed beyond recovery.

'the Guitar Player' by Jan Vermeer, 1672

"We Gather Together"  was first published in Adrian Valerius's Nederlandtsche Gedenckclanck, in 1626, in Haarleem. Initially, the singing of this hymn was limited to the Dutch people, until more than two centuries ago, in 1877, it was discovered by Edward Kremser, a Viennese musician who published it in his collection Sechs Altniederlanddische Volkslieder. The English translation of the text was done by Theodore Baker in 1894 and set to a Netherlands Folk Melody.

'Pilgrims' Prayer of Thanksgiving'

Theodore Baker was born in New York, and was a highly respected music researcher. His famous 'Biographical Dictionary of Musicians' became THE authoritative reference book for all serious students of music.

For those of you a little more into music publications, Mr. Baker served as the literary editor for the G.Schirmer Music Company from 1893 - 1926.

Mr. Baker returned to Germany - where he had received his earlier musical training. He died in Dresden, Germany in 1934.

'We Gather Together' was first seen in hymnals in 1903.

'Good News Hymn' compiled by Benjamin Franklin Butts, 1914

This charming paper doll is from Holland, with traditional costumes:

I hope you have had fun with this little slice of history today.
I know I have!
We in America have such a rich and diverse background
given to us from countries all over the world.
I feel so privileged!
I love to learn about how some of 'our' customs
are actually customs from other countries, just like this hymn!

See you tomorrow!


(my web site is certainly a work in progress....)

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