Thursday, November 25, 2010

We Gather Together

            Since I was young I have sung “We Gather Together” during the Thanksgiving season.  This song would conjure up scenes of the Pilgrims surrounding a large table outside,with the Indians standing beside them; the center of the table filled with serving trays of turkey and platters of roasted corn.  Everyone in the scene was at peace with each other and enjoying freedom of religion in the New World.
            A few years ago, however, I happened to glance at the bottom of the page while singing the first verse of this hymn and realized that it was actually written in the Netherlands in 1626.  At once, I came to the understanding that this song was not about the Pilgrims at all, but instead was about the Dutch.  They had been under Spanish rule for years and in this hymn, they were expressing gratitude for escaping the Spanish so they could have the freedom to sail the seas in pursuit of trade opportunities and gather to worship as they wanted.  Years before this song was written the Dutch were at war with the Catholic King Phillip II of Spain and since the Dutch were mostly Protestants, this war was not just about lands, but also religion.
            “We Gather Together” was originally written in 1597 b y Adrianus Valerius to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout - part of the Eighty Year War.  The city of Turnhout was a borderland between the Northern and Southern Netherlands and it was at this place, early in 1597 that the Dutch Cavalry defeated the Spanish Cavalry Unit.  The leader of the Dutch in this battle was Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange or just Prince Maurice.
            “We Gather Together” first appeared in 1626 as part of a collection of Dutch Patriotic Hymns.  As the Dutch sang, “We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessings” they were grateful for the fact that they could finally gather and worship as they pleased which was something that had been forbidden under Spain’s Catholic rule.
            This song continued to find a place in hymnbooks of various denominations as the feelings of gratitude expressed in it are somewhat universal.  During World War II as Americans sang “the wicked oppressing, now cease from distressing” they did not think of the Spanish and the Dutch, instead their minds were turned to Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
            So as you “Gather Together” this holiday season, take a minute to be grateful for the blessings you have in your life, no matter how difficult the past has been.

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