Nowell Briscoe is a former Monroe resident living in Atlanta. He writes a monthly column on the history of Walton County. His email address is

This year celebrating Thanksgiving is almost back to normal after last year’s COVID-19 restrictions.

This year we are gathering once again with family and friends to enjoy one of the most special and beloved of all the holidays; when we give thanks for the many wonderful things in our life.

As long as I can remember, there are two songs identified with the Thanksgiving season: the old standard, “Over the River and Through the Wood to Grandfather’s House We Go,” and the other one, with a religious tie, “We Gather Together to Ask the Lord’s Blessing,” always come to mind at this time of year.

I had a curiosity about both of these songs and with a little digging in my books on Thanksgiving I came up with the stories behind each which are quite interesting.

The song so familiar to all of us we know as “Over the River and Through the Wood,” was a Thanksgiving poem by Lydia Marin Child which was published in 1844 in “Flowers for Children, Volume 2.”

While many folks sing “to grandmother’s house we go,” the author’s original words were, “to grandfather’s house we go.”

The poem was originally published as “The New-England Boys Song about Thanksgiving Day.” It celebrates the author’s childhood memories of visiting her grandfather’s house (said to be the Paul Curtis House). Lydia Maria Child was a novelist, journalist, teacher and poet who wrote extensively about the need to eliminate slavery.

The poem eventually was set to music by an unknown composer. The song version is sometimes presented with lines about Christmas rather than Thanksgiving. As a Christmas song it has been recorded as “A Merry Christmas at Grandmother’s.” While the modern Thanksgiving holiday is not always associated with snow, New England in the early 19th century was enduring the Little Ice Age, a colder era with earlier winters.

A children’s book, “Over the River — A Turkey’s Tale,” recasts the poem as a humorous tale of a family of turkeys on their way to a vegetarian Thanksgiving; the book was written by Derek Anderson and published in 2005 by Simon & Schuster.

The other song, “We Gather Together,” is a Christian hymn of Dutch origin written in 1597 by Adrianus Valerius to celebrate the Dutch victory over Spanish forces in the Battle of Turnhout. It was originally set to a Danish folk tune.

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 folk and patriotic songs, “Nederlandtsche Gedenck-Clanck,” by Adriaen Velerius.

According to the Hymn Society in the U.S. and Canada, “We Gather Together” first appeared in an American hymnal in 1903. It had retained its popularity among the Dutch and when the Dutch Reformed Church in North America decided in 1937 to abandon its policy that they had brought with them to the New World in the 17th century 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 the services related to Thanksgiving on such occasions as town and college centennial celebrations. In 1935, a big break came for the hymn 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.

Sometimes sung for funeral services, the hymn was sung at the Opening of the Funeral Mass for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

As kitchens are being readied for the cooking of the turkey, dressing and all the trimmings anticipating a much happier celebration than last year, I will not be cooking a big meal as in past years. This year I am letting someone else cook for me. A small group of friends are meeting at Petite Violet on Clairmont Road for our Thanksgiving dinner, which will entail a four-course meal.

Going out for the holiday meal means there will not be a lot of clean-up to do in my kitchen. However, that does not mean no cooking or baking is being done! This season has already seen loaves of orange/cranberry/pecan bread come from the oven and still to come is pumpkin cranberry bread followed by Paula Deen’s wonderful orange/­cranberry/pecan Relish which I have served (and given to friends) for a number of years.

I have been sorely tempted to try the always enjoyable recipes from the files of the late New York Times food editor, Craig Claiborne, whose “Southern Cooking” cookbook is a true gem for those who enjoy Southern cuisine. His recipe for Kentucky bourbon pie with a whiskey sauce topping stands tall in my book and his bourbon pecan pie recipe is almost too much to take in! But take it in we will as I plan on making both of these this year to celebrate our freedom from being house-bound!

I am sorely tempted to try my fellow colleague at the Tribune, Amelia Adams’ New Perry Hotel Pecan Pie, which ran in the Oct. 23-24 issue of the Tribune. One thing is for sure, Amelia does know her way around the kitchen and I can certainly attest to some delicious samplings of her culinary knowledge!

In celebrating Thanksgiving this year, there are so very many things to be thankful for as we are coming out from under the dark cloud of COVID and beginning to have a renewed joy in doing so many of the things that have been denied us for over a year.

I was happy to see columnist Chris Bridges’ column in the Sept. 22nd issue of The Tribune where he was extolling the many things he was thankful for on that September day. His column reminded me of the late AJC Sports Editor Furman Bisher whose “I Am Thankful For” column ran every Thanksgiving Day for years as he listed the many things he was thankful for. Like both Chris and Furman, my list this year is a long one, with appreciations reaching far and wide.

Chris is right, we should not wait to list or express our being thankful to one day a year; we should let our appreciations be known on a daily basis. Who knows if we will be here a year from now?

Falling from the pages of one of my books on Thanksgiving, a poem which has brought me immense joy over the years is entitled “Be Thankful” and what better way to end this column than with James A. Adams’ thoughts:

If you can watch the spring appear

And see the new corn on the ear

And live a life that holds no fear


If you know peace within your heart

And finish all the things you start

And always know you’ve done your part


If you can hear the redbird sing

And see the flowers in the spring

And know that God is still King


If you can watch the children play

And see your friends and hear them say

That they wish you a happy day


If you can watch the falling rain

And hear the whistle of a train

And know the sun will shine again


If you can smell the new mown hay

And God has sent you a brand new day

And know he hears you when you pray


If you have felt a mother’s love

And heard the cooing of a dove

And know that God reigns from above


If you can hear the dogs that bark

Not be afraid when it is dark

And love is living in your heart


And if you like the weather hot

And don’t complain when it is not

And you are grateful for what you’ve got


If you see Jesus every place

In friendly hands and children’s face

And you are sure you will win the race


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