♫ Mary Had a Little Fib…♫
Well as the saying goes, better late than never. While the USA’s Thanksgiving Day is nearly a week gone by I herewith present the truth about Thanksgiving. I don’t wish to burst anyone’s bubble surrounding the myth concerning the first Thanksgiving popularly dated 1621 but the Truth will out, so to speak.
For Catholics thanksgiving is regularly celebrated through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass which though primarily Our Lord’s Sacrifice is also a Sacred Meal. Here the actual Sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ is once again enacted and thanks are given Our Lord for our Redemption and Salvation. In addition, this does not include the daily prayers of thanksgiving that should be part of a Catholic’s daily prayer life.
However, that said; let’s now lay to rest the fantasy and myth surrounding the traditional First Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims. To start the original Thanksgiving, including a Mass and feast was given in St. Augustine, Florida on September 8, 1565 by the Spanish Admiral and explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. The fare of the feast was shared by the Spaniards and the Timucua Indians, intentionally invited guests, who brought indigenous vittles such as venison, corn, beans, squash, oysters, clams, fruit, and, of course, plenty of turkeys. Quail, hare, rabbit, chicken were probably also supplied by the Timucua Indians, who most certainly brought tortillas, frijoles (beans for my Gringo brothers), and a corn and squash dish commonly called succotash, plus various other legumes, as well as fruits.
The Spaniards likely contributed cocido, (soup or stew made with beef, alternately pork, garbanzo beans, chickpeas, and onions), along with biscuits, olive oil and red wine. Surely, salted pork and cheese spread was also present. Let us remember that Spaniards introduced into the newly discovered territories: horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats and chickens. Condiments were also brought over such as olive oil, cinnamon, parsley, coriander, oregano and black pepper, and also nuts and grains such as almonds, rice, wheat and barley.
Being now a gentleman farmer and a Connecticut Yankee it always struck me as strange that the appointed date for the USA Thanksgiving was the fourth Thursday in November, considering this was largely a thanksgiving for a successful and bountiful harvest. In fact, here in New England the harvest is long gathered into the stores and larder much before this date in September and early October: so here was my first red flag and one that got my inquisitive senses going.
A second “Thanksgiving” was also given in San Elizario, TX along the banks of the Rio Grande in 1598 in the current county of El Paso by another Spanish explorer, Juan de Oñate y Salazar to give thanks for the crossing of three hundred and fifty miles of the Mexican Desert.
It actually turns out that the modern concept of Thanksgiving is viewed through the lens of New England Protestant settlers, specifically, persecuted English Pilgrims who actually had numerous thanksgiving celebrations for a myriad of triumphant occasions going back even to their time in the Old World. Indeed, the modern concept of the Pilgrim is largely a derogatory view of the Pilgrims by their Protestant brothers who saw them as rigid and austere. For instance, the image of the severe black, grey and white of their dress was largely false since it was only their custom to wear this fashion on Sunday. Other than this they wore mostly the fashion of the day, but more in line with their incomes. Last Wills and Testaments, the Passenger Manifest of the Mayflower, and other historical documents attest to this as clothing descriptions included many colorful waistcoats, pantaloons, and other raiment of the time. BTW, the iconic buckled high-hat and buckled shoes are largely a figment of our times as bucklers of brass were costly and generally an accoutrement of the upper classes of the day and beyond the practical reach of the average Pilgrim.
Incidentally, the democratic ideal of the local Narragansett Indians as invited guests is also a myth, in that the celebration was largely internal for the Pilgrim community. This comes from none other than Governor Bradford himself in his now famous writing: Plymouth Plantation. Any Indians present were drawn to the feasting and celebrations by the raucous field-games, festivities, and the smell of the foods being prepared; once there, they were invited to partake, but not as commonly depicted as invited guests.
A very large foundational myth was that the first Thanksgiving was to give thanks for a successful harvest after years of devastating crop failures and near starvation. The fact is, the Pilgrims with great foresight, planning, and knowledge of previously failed colonies in the New World took proper precautions and had contracted several merchant traders to regularly call on Plymouth Plantation with clothing, dry goods, stores, food and ammunition. Said contract lasted for seven years or more until the colony was firmly established in the New World. This is easily corroborated by contracts in historical archives still existing today. So yes, while initial harvests might have been poor as the settlers acclimated to the new climate and soil, the larders and stores were largely full thanks to constant supplies coming from Europe. This, of course, does not take away from the story of Squanto and his lending a helping hand in the agricultural adventures of the newcomers as they had much to learn about the harsh and short growing season of the New England and also about its rocky soil. As a transplant myself from New York and New Jersey I personally can say there is a learning curve when it comes to New England gardening and farming.
SO just where did all this misinformation we now view as factual originate, you might ask? Well, these stem from the imagination and pen of Sarah Josepha Hale, an influential editor and American writer best known for her little ditty of: “Mary had a Little Lamb”. She was a champion of making the mythical Pilgrim Thanksgiving a national annual celebration, (which for the Pilgrims it never was annual) and hugely succeeded in this endeavor in large part thanks to the financial support of her late husband’s Masonic Lodge buddies. Thus we see why the original Catholic Thanksgiving celebrations were virtually forgotten over the years even by the most devoted Catholic Faithful in favor of the Pilgrim myth.
So perhaps it is time for Catholics to celebrate Thanksgiving in the more appropriate season of September 8th, rather than November. This would, in fact, right two ongoing wrongs: the Pilgrim Myth and, more importantly, the infamous and bestial Black Friday sales events, which have become nothing more than a materialistic orgy of temporal gain.
Embrace your American Catholic heritage and culture and continue to storm heaven with the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Consecration of Russia to Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart. Perhaps then recognition of our nation as an initially a Catholic nation we occur to the popular mind.
Richard of Danbury, D.S.G.