Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Day in the United States. Observance of this special day of giving thanks to God was begun in America by the English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts. The observance is akin to the traditional English autumn festival of Harvest Home. Thanksgiving Day was primarily a New England holiday in the United States up until the American Civil War. Since President Lincoln's proclamation of a National Day of Thanksgiving in November 1863, Thanksgiving has become a national holiday in the United States.
Although Thanksgiving Day is not part of the traditional Christian church calendar, Thanksgiving Day is often celebrated in churches in the United States as a national day. The hymns usually associated with Thanksgiving services are among my favorites. In Lutheran churches, one of these is Martin Rinkart's Now Thank We All Our God (Nun Danket Alle Gott). Like many other German hymns, Now Thank We All Our God found its way into English language hymnody thanks to the work of the remarkable 19th century Englishwoman Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878). Catherine Winkworth was tutored by the Reverend William Gaskell, who taught her German. She became acquainted with the novelists Charlotte Brönte and Mrs. Elizabeth Claghorn Gaskell, the wife of her tutor. She produced several volumes of translations of German hymns into English. These include Lyra Germanica (two volumes, 1855 and 1858) and Christian Singers of Germany (1869). Along with her music editors, Dr Sterndale Bennett and Otto Goldschmidt (the husband of Swedish singer Jenny Lind), she produced the Chorale Book for England (1863). The Chorale Book for England was not widely adopted in English churches, but was extremely influential in American Lutheran churches. By the late 1800s, many Lutheran churches in the eastern United States were converting from use of the German language to English. Nonetheless, these churches wished to continue using their familiar German hymns. The Chorale Book for England proved to be a bountiful source of material for these churches in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Catherine Winkworth's translation of Martin Rinkart's Now Thank We All Our God (Nun Danket Alle Gott), was set out in her Christian Singers of Germany. This book, despite its title, is a history of the writers and composers of German hymns. Rinkart was a pastor in Eilenberg, Saxony, whose ministry spanned the entire period of the Thirty Years' War. Along with the rest of Germany, Rinkart's town suffered from invasion, plague, and famine. Rinkart himself performed thousands of funerals, while ministering ceaselessly to the sick and starving. Through all of this he maintained a steadfast faith and wrote Nun Danket Alle Gott near the end of the Thirty Years' War. This hymn is a excellent example of Catherine Winkworth's ability to render the German text into fine English poetry while preserving the meter and essential meaning of the original German.
posted by Wilhelm