Thanksgiving hymns remind us to be grateful

November 17, 2006|by LISA PREJEAN

I love the hymns of Thanksgiving. They remind me to have a grateful heart.

Why should we be thankful for what we have? Each item we possess, every person in our lives, all the days that we live are gifts. We should appreciate them because we have no guarantee that they will endure.

"We Gather Together"

Perhaps the best-known Thanksgiving hymn is "We Gather Together." While the author of this hymn is unknown, the hymn can be traced to the Netherlands in the first quarter of the 17th century.

As we sing about those "wicked oppressing" who "now cease from distressing," we can think about the Dutch who longed for freedom from Spanish oppression:


"We all do extol Thee, Thou leader in battle, And pray that Thou still our defender wilt be. Let Thy congregation escape tribulation; Thy name be ever praised: O Lord, make us free!"

"Come, Ye Thankful People, Come"

In many households next Thursday, a prayer of thanks will be uttered before the Thanksgiving meal. The author of this hymn, Henry Alford, was said to have given thanks both before and after meals. He was a leader in the church during the 19th century in England.

He wrote this hymn as a tribute for those who work hard, have aching muscles and long for a good meal at the end of the day. This truly was a harvest celebration song, having originally been called "After Harvest."

"Count Your Blessings"

As a little girl, I would get a mental picture each time we sang this hymn in church. I was riding a pillow along waves and against strong winds, dodging things that were flung at me. Little did I know then that "billow" had nothing in common with "pillow," except the rhyme factor. A pillow is something you put under your head. A billow is a large wave.

The words of this hymn have always been a help when I get a little down:

"When upon life's billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. Count your blessings, name them one by one: Count your blessings, See what God hath done; Count your blessings, name them one by one; Count your many blessings, see what God hath done."

"For the Beauty of the Earth"

The beauty of the countryside along the banks of the Avon River in England was the inspiration for this hymn written by Folliot Pierpoint:

"For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies, For the love which from our birth, Over and around us lies: Lord of all to Thee we raise, This our hymn of grateful praise."

"Come Thou Fount"

Robert Robertson, a 23-year-old minister at the Calvinistic Methodist Church in Norfolk, England, wrote this song to express his thankfulness:

"Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, Call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, Sung by flaming tongues above; Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it, Mount of thy redeeming love."

His tune apparently changed when he grew older. While in a stagecoach, Robinson was urged by a fellow passenger to look over the words of the hymn with her. He told her he was the author and that he wished he could go back and enjoy the feelings he had when he wrote the hymn.

If you, like Robinson, feel you've lost the gratefulness you once had, read the great Thanksgiving hymns and praise songs. The words will lift your spirits, lighten your mood and put your focus where it ought to be this season.

For more information on the origin of hymns, look for these resources:

· "The One Year Book of Hymns," compiled and edited by Robert K. Brown and Mark R. Norton.

· "Living Stories of Famous Hymns," by Ernest K. Emurian.

· "Spiritual Moments with the Great Hymns," by Evelyn Bence.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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