Thanksgiving: Simple Gifts
by Bob Schwartz
The Shaker dance song Simple Gifts (Joseph Brackett, 1848) is the ultimate Thanksgiving song. It is also the ultimate American song, provided we recognize that in America, the most religious and richest nation on earth, simplicity and humility are ideals worth aspiring to and striving for.
Ken Burns writes this about his documentary The Shakers:
They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, but because of their ecstatic dancing, the world called them Shakers. Though they were celibate, they are the most enduring religious experiment in American history. They believed in pacifism, natural health and hygiene, and for more than 200 years insisted that their followers should strive for simplicity and perfection in everything they did.
Shaker design, including furniture and baskets, may be familiar to you. So may the melody of Simple Gifts. It is frequently used in pop culture, and is most famous musically in Aaron Copland’s orchestral masterpiece, Appalachian Spring. And while the tune is often heard, the lyrics are not as frequently sung. Here is an appropriately unadorned version by Judy Collins.
Even if you can’t read music, you can look at the musical score and see how very simple this song is:
Here are the lyrics. Happy Thanksgiving.
‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.