For those readers who get my column after Thanksgiving Day, I wish you Happy Leftovers.
Q: You’ve said that there are no Thanksgiving songs. Have you never heard “Over the River and Through the Woods” or “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come”? – B
A: I am sticking to my view that there are really no Thanksgiving songs.
A cursory search for Thanksgiving songs in the great and wonderful Oz of the Internet came up with clinkers such as “Food, Glorious Food” from the musical Oliver that is not a Thanksgiving song and requires 20 Broadway urchins to sing it properly at your Thanksgiving table. Some lists of Thanksgiving songs include Bing Crosby’s “Count Your Blessings” from the Irving Berlin musical “White Christmas' that is, firstly, about Christmas – not Thanksgiving – and, secondly, is not nearly as good as “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas.” Even Adam Sandler’s Thanksgiving song got some Internet votes, but when you are forced to include songs from “Saturday Night Live” in your Thanksgiving repertoire of all-time favorites, you know you are stretching a bit too far. Some lists of Thanksgiving songs include “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, which always makes me cry but has nothing to do with Thanksgiving and cannot be sung by any person other than the great Satchmo.
“Over the River and Through the Woods” was indeed written as a Thanksgiving song in 1844 by Lydia Maria Child, but it became famous when it was rewritten as a Christmas song and sung by, among others, by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters.
“We Gather Together” is a great song, but it is actually a Dutch hymn that had nothing to do with Thanksgiving and, in fact, did not make it to America until 1903.
“Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” is a close call. Written by an Englishman, the Rev. Henry Alford in 1844, it is, however, about harvest time in England, not Thanksgiving in America.
And the last two verses are problematic theologically. They’re based on the very unecumenical Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13: 24-30) “giving angels charge at last, in the fire the tares to cast; but the fruitful ears to store in the garner evermore.” I’m just not sure Alford believed that Jews qualified as “fruitful ears.” In fact, I’m sure he didn’t.
Perhaps we can compromise on “Bless this House,” which was written in 1927 by the Englishwoman Helen Taylor and May Brahe. Although it also has nothing whatever to do with Thanksgiving, I love the song and the simple praise and gratitude it offers for home and hearth echoes the deepest reasons why we all love Thanksgiving.
So, dear readers, please put down your green bean casseroles and sing with me now:
Bless this house, O Lord we pray,
Make it safe by night and day
… Bless these walls so firm and stout,
Keeping want and trouble out
… Bless the roof and chimneys tall,
Let thy peace lie overall …
Bless this door that it may prove,
To joy and love …
Bless these windows shining bright,
Letting in God’s heavenly light,
Bless the hearth, ablazing there,
With smoke ascending like a prayer!
Bless the people here within,
Keep them pure and free from sin …
Bless us all that we may be,
Fit O Lord to dwell with thee …
Bless us all that one day we may dwell,
O Lord! With Thee!
God bless our homes. God bless our nation. God bless our world.