America's Original Thanksgiving

November 24, 2017

New England Pilgrims not really your thing? Take heart! The first Thanksgiving celebration in what was to become the U.S. took place in Florida between Spaniards and the Timucua tribe.

Fifty-six years before the Pilgrims celebrated their feast, Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived on the coast of Florida. He came ashore on September 8, 1565, naming the land on which he stepped “St. Augustine” in honor of the saint on whose feast day, Aug. 28, the land was sighted. Members of the Timucua tribe, which had occupied the site for more than 4,000 years, greeted Menéndez and his group of some 800 Catholic colonists peacefully.

Colonial records indicate that on the date they came ashore, and in gratitude for their safe arrival, the Spanish celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving, the very first Catholic mass on American soil. According to the memoirs of Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who celebrated the mass, once “the feast day [was] observed . . . after mass, ‘the Adelantado [Menendez] had the Indians fed and dined himself.” As University of Florida professor Michael Gannon noted in his seminal book, The Cross in the Sand, “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.” From what we know of the food provisions stocked on Menendez’s ships, the meal that the Spaniards and Timucua shared on September 8, 1565, was probably cocido, a stew made from salted pork and garbanzo beans, laced with garlic seasoning and accompanied by hard sea biscuits and red wine. The Timucua, as invited guests, would have contributed food to the communal meal–likely local game and fish, along with grains, corn, beans, and squash. 



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