With Thanksgiving upon us and Christmas mere weeks away, I once again notice an imbalance in holiday music – a decided plethora of yuletide songs overshadows a clear shortage of Thanksgiving melodies. For every twenty carols, easy-listening classics, Nutcracker selections, and “Hallelujah Chorus” presentations, there may be one song related to Thanksgiving.
Probably many Boomers, along with kids from several other generations, know the lines of a song that invariably pops into my mind at this time of year: Over the river and through the woods/to grandmother’s house we go! For years, grade-schoolers at Thanksgiving assemblies and programs have sung that The horse knows its way to carry the sleigh/through the white and drifted snow – conjuring up a Norman Rockwell type of wintry scene most of us can envision and maybe even long to experience.
I can never resist checking out backstories, so I found it interesting that this song began as a poem entitled “The New-England Boy’s Song about Thanksgiving Day,” penned by Lydia Maria Child in 1844. I also noted in the original first line the poet used wood, rather than woods, as I learned to sing it; she also had everyone heading for grandfather’s house.
I tend to know most words of most stanzas for lots of songs, and this one is no exception. Thus, I must point out other phrases I particularly enjoy, including Oh, how the wind does blow/it stings the nose and bites the toes and Trot fast my dapple-gray/spring over the ground like a hunting-hound!
This month I have already been warbling aloud all the stanzas of “We Gather Together.” I venture to guess that many church congregations are also currently singing this staple from the Methodist hymnal.
Although I always visualize the traditional scene of a family around a table laden with turkey and trimmings when I hear We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, the majority of the sentiments do not exactly fit the season.
Actually, this hymn celebrates a 1597 victory by Dutch Protestants over Spain, whose king forbade them to meet together in worship. In fact, the lyrics of the song seem to create a slightly militant tone.
Please bear with the English teacher in me as I point out several internal rhymes appearing in this hymn: He chastens and hastens His will to make known and The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing. Other examples include So from the beginning the fight we were winning as well as Let Thy congregation escape tribulation. In all, I consider it a fine anthem expressing praise for blessings bestowed.
Another hymn I have sung at home and at church many times is “Come Ye Thankful People, Come.” This song specifically mentions the time of year to which this former farmgirl can relate: Raise the song of harvest-home when All is safely gathered in/ere the winter storms begin.
Thanks and praise abound: God our Maker doth provide/for our wants to be supplied. In 1844 Henry Alford ended the first stanza of his hymn with Come to God’s own temple, come/raise the song of harvest-home. For me, this song appropriately sums up the spirit of the season.
Wondering if my very abbreviated list of Thanksgiving songs would provide enough material for an entire column, I resorted to a quick Google search for other seasonal music I might have missed. I ran across a song I have never heard. However, anything Johnny Cash sings is good enough for me!
It seems that The Man in Black sang “Thanksgiving Prayer” during a 1994 episode of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, that drama series with Jane Seymour set in the Old West. The scene he paints is classic even today: We’ve come to the time in the season/when family and friends gather near/to offer a prayer of Thanksgiving/for blessings we’ve known through the year. He continues: To join hands and thank the Creator/and now when Thanksgiving is due/this year when I count my blessings/I’m thanking the Lord He made you. Who knows, maybe by next year, I will be singing this lovely song out loud right in my own living room.
The final entry in my personal Thanksgiving playlist is perhaps more closely associated with Christmas, but when I hear Perry Como sing “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” I think about the days and ways we celebrate in November and December. The lyrics, No matter how far away you roam/when you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze/for the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home, truly represent the warmth and coziness of both Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The words especially speak to me in light of the changes my Thanksgiving Days have undergone. Noisy, crowded celebrations filled with kids and presided over by my mother, who fixed her special dressing, and my father, who cut up the turkey in his special way, have morphed into quiet meals in Ohio. Those children of the past are now sprinkled over six states, making memories with their own offspring. Thanksgiving these days is steeped in bittersweet nostalgia.
For Thursday and the days beyond, I wish my dear readers perhaps a trip to Grandma’s – and Grandpa’s – house to gather together in giving thanks for home and the harvest. And may each of you offer up Thanksgiving prayers for the memories of home sweet home – wherever that may be.
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.