As a child, Thanksgiving was my second-favorite holiday, just behind Christmas (of course). First on the agenda, as it was every weekday that I wasn't in school, was Captain Kangaroo. That day's show always had a Thanksgiving theme, as you might expect. What was really memorable about it, though, was that at the end of the program the usual kids' set was replaced with a large dining table, which the cast would set, cover with traditional food, and then sit and PRAY (or at least pretend to pray) over--on national network television! (where was the FCC? where was the ACLU?) While that scene was unfolding, you'd hear a choir singing the beautiful hymn "We Gather Together" (more on that below). Ever after, whenever I hear that hymn, I think of the Captain and that moving scene, and it's become synonymous with Thanksgiving for me (and I'm not the only one who remembers this).
After that, it was several hours of televised Thanksgiving Day parades--Macy's from New York--with the big balloons!--the J.L. Hudson's Parade from Detroit, and the Santa Claus Parade from Toronto. On CBS you got some of all three, winding up with Santa at the end of the Toronto parade. For several years in the mid-1960s, Captain Kangaroo and crew hosted the Macy's Parade. And back then, they were real parades with marching bands and floats, instead of the static stage numbers and remote studio drivel you (not me, as I don't watch it any more) see today. Ah, for the good old days!
And then, in the afternoon, it was off to Grandma and Grandpa's for the Big Event--dinner! Not only our six with them, of course, but you had to add my uncles/aunts and their children, as well as Grandma's sisters and a cousin or two. So, you'd generally have anywhere from 18 to two dozen people there. With extra tables and chairs the "board" stretched all the way across the dining room and well into the living room! I don't think I graduated all the way to the "adult" table in the dining room until the last couple of Thanksgiving dinners there, in the mid-1970s. The turkey, stuffing, squash, and pies (that's a VERY abbreviated list) were always perfect! I can still smell it all in my mind's, ah, "nose."
<Here insert repeated-ad-nauseum story of how I dropped onto the sidewalk Mom's painstakingly-wrought layered jello dessert on our way into Grandma's house one year, while trying to hang onto a stack of books with the other hand.>
Speaking of gathering, I wanted to share a little bit about that ultimate Thanksgiving hymn, We Gather Together. It has a rich and compelling history all its own, as related in this Wikipedia article:
We Gather Together is a Christian hymn of Netherlands origin written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius (pka François Valéry) as Wilt Heden Nu Treden to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. It was originally set to a Dutch folk tune. In the United States, it is popularly associated with Thanksgiving Day and is often sung at family meals and at religious services on that day.Here for your listening pleasure (the "video" is static, but this was the best choral performance I could find on YouTube) is "We Gather Together." The text appears below the video--and let's remember to recite in our prayers that last, stirring line, "O Lord, make us free!"
At the time the hymn was written, the Dutch were engaged in a war of national liberation against the Catholic King Philip II of Spain. "Wilt heden nu treden," "We gather together" resonated because under the Spanish King, Dutch Protestants were forbidden to gather for worship. The hymn first appeared in print in a 1626 collection of Dutch patriotic songs, "Nederlandtsch Gedencklanck."
The hymn is customarily performed to a tune known as "Kremser", from Eduard Kremser's 1877 score arrangement and lyric translation of Wilt Heden Nu Treden into Latin and German. The modern English text was written by Theodore Baker in 1894.
According to the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, "We Gather Together's" first appearance in an American hymnal was in 1903. It had retained popularity among the Dutch, and when the Dutch Reformed Church in North America decided in 1937 to abandon the policy that they had brought with them to the New World in the 1600s of singing only psalms and add hymns to the church service, "We Gather Together" was chosen as the first hymn in the first hymnal.
The hymn steadily gained popularity, especially in services of Thanksgiving on such occasions as town and college centennial celebrations. According to Carl Daw, executive director of the Hymn Society, the "big break" came in 1935 when it was included in the national hymnal of the Methodist-Episcopal Church.
According to Michael Hawn, professor of sacred music at Southern Methodist University's Perkins School of Theology, "by World War I, we started to see ourselves in this hymn," and the popularity increased during World War II, when "the wicked oppressing" were understood to include Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
This hymn is generally sung at American churches the day before Thanksgiving.
This hymn was sung at the Opening of the Funeral Mass for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
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, were at our side, all glory be Thine!
We all do extol Thee, Thou Leader triumphant,
And pray that Thou still our Defender will be.
Let Thy congregation escape tribulation;
Thy Name be ever praised! O Lord, make us free!