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A Hymn's Long Journey Home

Melanie Kirkpatrick

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The surprising origins of "We Gather Together," a Thanksgiving standard.

Its mention of God makes it verboten in schools today. But not too many years ago this was the season when teachers would lead their students in the great ecumenical Thanksgiving hymn, "We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing." It's a singable melody, and the stirring lyrics speak directly of the Pilgrims' experience in overcoming religious persecution.

Or do they? With the exception of Native Americans, we're all the descendants of those who came to the New World from somewhere else. So too, it turns out, did "We Gather Together," whose origins are Dutch and speak of religious persecution that predates the first Thanksgiving. It's appropriate that a hymn we sing to celebrate a quintessentially American holiday is, like most of us, a transplant.

The melody can be traced back to 1597 and is probably older than that. It started out as a folk song, whose secular lyrics set a decidedly nonreligious tone. "Wilder dan wilt, wie sal mij temmen," the song began, or "Wilder than wild, who will tame me?" Folk melodies have a way of wanting to be sung--think "Greensleeves," which has numerous sets of lyrics associated with it--and "Wilder dan wilt" was no exception.

Read the entire article on the Wall Street Opinion Journal website (new window will open).

Posted: 24-Nov-05



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