New Year’s Eve celebrations

On New Year’s Eve, Bruce and I visited my parents.  Dad recalled his missionary days in Finland.  On his first New Year’s Eve there, he anticipated that the Finnish Saints would do the same things American Saints do–kiss and make lots of noise and blow little horns and throw graffiti.  Instead,  they rose as one body and solemnly sang, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”  I wonder if they still do that.  (And I know there are bloggers who can tell me.)

At my parents’ home, we sang one of my favorite hymns, which doesn’t usually get a lot of attention: “God Of  Our Fathers Known of Old” by Rudyard Kipling.  Here are the first three verses.

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far flung battle line,
beneath whose awful hand we hold
dominion over palm and pine
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
lest we forget lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
the captains and the kings depart:
still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
an humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
lest we forget lest we forget!

Far called, our navies melt away;
on dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the nations, spare us yet,
lest we forget lest we forget!

I love the solemnity of this hymn, particular during a time of many wars, at the start of a new administration, and with unprecedented challenges and nuclear power in unstable hands.  The unprinted verses reflect Kipling’s time, and also suggest the sociological framework the founders of our own church had:

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord.

I hear from missionaries serving in Africa frequently, and give thanks that 2009 finds us a global church, sending missionaries to places once regarded as “Heathen nations” populated with “lesser breeds.” Kipling’s own warning should frame these final verses.  “Judge of the nations, spare us yet–lest we forget, lest we forget.”


  1. Margaret Blair Young says:

    Sorry about the shifting fonts! I am still getting used to 2009 technology. (I have been recently updated.)

  2. I love the text of this hymn, too. The imagery of stripping away all the pomp of the far-flung British empire and being left with only “thine ancient sacrifice” is indeed powerful. Thanks for this.

    But why sing it on New’s Year’s? Was it just a happy coincidence?

  3. We sang it because I love it, and my husband and parents went along with the idea. I wonder why Finns chose “A Mighty Fortress.” I do love the idea of recognizing that every beginning comes with a warning and many possibilities–and should start with a statement that God holds our highest loyalty.

    There is something particularly appropriate about singing the “God Of Our Fathers Known of Old” at the dawn of 2009, when the arrogance and pomp of yesteryear (including the enslavement or exclusion of Africans)has been swept to the side–at least for a moment–as the world watches an African American man take the helm of the ship which once would have kept him in the Jim Crow seats. Now to see how he governs…

    He is a religious man. For that, I am thankful. I was struck by how quietly and even humbly he repeated his campaign slogan during the moment he acknowledged his victory: “Yes we can.”

  4. Grammarian says:

    When they threw the graffiti at the wall, did it stick?
    It sticks a lot here in NYC.

  5. My first New Years in Finland as a missionary went by uncelebrated, but I do recall getting caught up on some much needed sleep. My second New Years happened to be the Y2K one, and that one was definitely celebrated.

    We spent the evening with a member family that we had never really met before and who were all rather quiet and reserved (even for a Finns) which was awkward. Later that night we went to the town center and watched random fireworks. It was very unorganized but entertaining since most of the people lighting the fireworks were a bit on the tipsy side. This resulting in a few fireworks going off in the crowds of people – hilarity ensued (fortunately no one was hurt).

    Anyhow, despite the fireworks, my overall impression was that it was a very serious and somber evening still. No one cheered at midnight, there was no count down, no ball. Everyone just stood in silence looking up at the sky, the northern lights (just barely visible) and the occasional firework explosion. I don’t recall singing any songs/hymns, though it would not have been out of character for that night.

  6. Happy New Year, Margaret, and thanks for this post.

  7. “God of Our Fathers Known of Old” is my husband’s favorite hymn. I wish we sang it more. Like, ever.

  8. Former Lutheran that I am, I am not at all surprised by “A Mighty Fortress.” It is such a Lutheran favorite. I wish we sang more of the verses.

  9. Kipling’s poem “White Man’s Burden” might be appropos also?

  10. Grammarian–thanks for the catch. Of course, I meant confetti, not graffiti. (Of all the things I’ve lost with aging, I miss my mind the most.)

    Molly–I’ll have to look up the other verses. I always figured there was just that one. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. That final passage you added, Margaret, reminds me of President Kimball’s chastisement of Mormons for being a “warlike people,” around the time of the MX missile affair.

    We are heathens, all!

  12. The text for “God of Our Fathers” is Kipling’s poem, “Recessional”. He was asked to write a poem to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee (60th year as Queen of England); the poem he produced, “Recessional” (named after the hymn sung by a choir as it leaves the chapel), was frankly a pointed (and prescient) jab at the self-satisfied British Empire. Needless to say, Queen Victoria was not amused.

    Note, by the way, that Kipling doesn’t use the phrase “Heathen nations” in the poem. He does refer to “heathen heart” in the last verse, but that clearly refers to his own countrymen who “put [their] trust in reeking tube and iron shard”, i.e., modern weaponry, rather than in God. Still a prescient poem today (cf. Pres. Kimball’s 1976 talk, “The False Gods We Worship”). ..bruce..

  13. I would really like it if we got rid of “The heathen nations bow the knee,” in “Come, O Thou King of Kings.” It would be easy to change to “And all the nations bow…” or something.

  14. Instead, they rose as one body and solemnly sang, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” I wonder if they still do that.

    Not to my knowledge. My wife thinks her very pious grandmother might have done so at some point. There is a tradition of melting some tin and dropping it in water and seeing what shape forms, creating a prediction for the coming year, but I’ve never done it.

    We have sauna, of course, eat little sausages and watch the fireworks around the neighborhood.

    We did start a new tradition this year, which I am calling The Desecration. The men of the family devour whatever sections of the gingerbread house are deemed edible until they can eat no more.

  15. Beautiful Margaret! Yes let us all remember. Thank you.