Thursday, November 27, 2014

From the Archives: A Thanksgiving Hymn

(This post was originally published Thanksgiving Day 2007, and was republished on that same holiday in 2010.)

We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing

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, wast at our side; all glory be Thine!

We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender wilt be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!

This hymn, traditionally sung during the Thanksgiving season, is an old Netherlands folks song translated by Theodore Baker. The tune that is used is "Kremser," an old Netherlands melody in The Collection, by Adrianus Valerius, 1625. It has been my favorite Thanksgiving hymn since I was about six or seven years old, when my father explained to me the story behind the hymn, as a part of the Dutch heritage and cultural lessons he and my mother taught me at home. Those were the basis of my love for history and genealogy today. I remember singing this song a cappella for show and tell at school in second grade.

During the Eighty Years' War (a war of independence) between Spain and what would become the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the inland city of Leiden--among others--was besieged by Spanish troops from May through October 1574. People were starving, and although the Dutch had ships of food to relieve the citizens, there was no way to get the supplies past the Spanish troops. The Dutch then sacrificed their land by cutting the dikes, flooding the area outside the city along with the Spanish encampments, so that the ships could sail in and provide sustenance and relief to the city. The hymn above was written to give thanks to God for His Providence during this war.

Because of the cruel persecution the Calvinistic Dutch people suffered at the hand of the Catholic Spanish, the Netherlands became a place of refuge for the religiously oppressed. It says much of the tolerant Netherlanders that they did not become consumed with hatred for Catholicism, and thus did not become a country of violence and strife as we see in Northern Ireland today. Those southern Dutch provinces which remained loyal to Catholicism eventually--and peacefully--became the country of Belgium. The city of Leiden became a host for the English Separatists, whom we know today as the Pilgrims. They lived there from about 1608 until the majority left for America in 1620. Some of the family members remained behind until the colony was established, arriving on later ships.

As we know with history, each event was inspired and created by many others. While there were many early European groups in North America that celebrated some sort of thanksgiving event, our modern Thanksgiving holiday is most closely aligned with the one that took place in 1621 by the Pilgrims. Their arrival on this continent was an important historical event in the timeline of our country. Yet if not for the city of Leiden, its successful stand against the Spanish in 1574, and its place as a haven for the religiously oppressed, we may not be celebrating Thanksgiving today.

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