Guest post by Sarah Fitzgerald, Book Division volunteer
Thanksgiving celebrations have often been marked by hymns of thanks in appreciation of the joys of life and plentiful food. Songs of thanksgiving pre-date the first national recognition by President Lincoln of the day we now call Thanksgiving Day. The Thanksgiving: a Collection of Music for the Choir, the Home Circle, and the Singing School from 1857 provides songs of thanks with the hope that "many a heart may be led to praise God with greater ardor through its instrumentality". The lyrics in many of the songs have a serious and reverent tone to them that makes it clear that more than musical lessons are intended to be learned from the book.
Thanksgiving began as a religious holiday to thank God for the bounty of food from fall harvests, but it is also a patriotic holiday which is bound tightly to American identity. In 1792, An Anthem Designed for Thanksgiving Day. But proper for any publick occasion. was published according to an act of Congress. This publication shows how our government's relationship with religion has changed, since it it is difficult to imagine this Christian song would be published under an act by a modern Congress.
Some Thanksgiving songs are meant as a reminder that in difficult times there is still much to be thankful for.
A poignant song called Mamma Says There's No Thanksgiving published 1901tells the story of a child whose father has left for war and a soldier who has been lost to his family, until they meet and discover they are father and daughter and rejoice in thanks at being reunited. The image from the sheet music also pulls at the heartstrings, as the little girl looks mournfully at a display of holiday foods in a shop window, wishing she could partake of the celebratory treats.