Are you ready for this? You’ve been lied to your whole life about Thanksgiving. It’s true. Typical of popular American history, our textbooks have fed us half-truths about the actual events.
Here’s how the story goes in our textbooks. The first Thanksgiving happened in early autumn of 1621 at Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was celebrated by the Pilgrims who had recently arrived via the Mayflower and the Natives who greeted them when they arrived in the New World. These Pilgrims were mainly Puritans from England who were fleeing religious persecution that resulted from the Protestant Reformation and the numerous subsequent denominational breakaways. While this great feast of thanksgiving did in fact happen at Plymouth in the fall of 1621, it was not the first Thanksgiving (and in fact, some people argue that it wasn’t really a thanksgiving feast - http://www.snopes.com/holidays/thanksgiving/beliefs.asp).
Rewind about 100 years and head south about 1,200 miles to Florida. The Spanish had been exploring what is now the southern United States since Christopher Columbus had “discovered” in the late 1400’s, in part to preach the Catholic faith to any locals they might find and open to them the possibility of Heaven. In 1513, the Spaniard Ponce de Leon discovered a peninsula in the New World that he named “The Land of Flowers,” or Florida. It took a while, but the Spanish finally established a colony in Florida by 1565.
On September 8, 1565, Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles, Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, and several hundred others arrived at the new colony. Upon landing, they were greeted by the Timucuan Indians who occupied the village of Seloy. The Spanish immediately set up a makeshift altar and Fr. Lopez celebrated the first Mass on American soil for the Spanish explorers and the Natives. After Mass, they celebrated a feast together in thanksgiving for a safe arrival and a warm welcome. The Spanish named the port St. Augustine, and you can still visit the site today.
So the real first Thanksgiving did not involve fleeing religious persecution. It actually involved an attempt to spread the Catholic faith, a celebration of Mass, and a large dinner with old and new friends. The food was probably a bit different from the meal in Plymouth over 50 years later.
This Thanksgiving, you might want to suggest that your family celebrate Thanksgiving the way it really started, with Mass before a big dinner in thankful celebration of your Catholic faith.