The first American Thanksgiving was neither at Plymouth Rock in 1621 nor in Texas on April 20, 1568 when Don Juan de Oñate crossed the Rio Grande and took formal possession of present day El Paso. This honor belongs to the city of St. Augustine, Florida, the first and oldest city of our present day United States, with the landing of Captain General Pedro Menéndez de Aviles and his fleet of soldiers and colonists – accompanied by priests – on the coast of Florida on September 8, 1565.
Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, chaplain of Menéndez’s fleet, recorded the landing in his diary: “On Saturday the eighth the General landed with many banners spread, to the sounds of trumpets and the salutes of artillery. As I had gone ashore the evening before, I took a cross and went to meet him, singing the hymn 'Te Deum Laudamus.' The General, followed by all who accompanied him, marched up to the cross, knelt and kissed it. A large number of Indians watched these proceedings and imitated all that they saw done.”
Following Menéndez’ veneration of the cross, thus proclaiming this land in the name of God (Nombre de Dios), and raising of the King’s flag, thus proclaiming this land also in the name of King Phillip II of Spain, Fr. López celebrated Mass at a rustic altar made of wood.
When the celebration of Mass was completed, Pedro Menéndez hosted a meal of thanksgiving and invited the Native Timucuan People to participate. The Timucuans brought wild turkey, venison, oysters and giant clams, as well as maize, beans, squash, nuts and fruits. The Spaniards contribution was cocido, a stew made with pork, garbanzo beans and onions, along with biscuits, olive oil and red wine.
In his well-researched book on the State of Florida titled Cross in the Sand, Dr. Michael Gannon duly affirmed that this Mass and feast was “the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent European settlement in the land.”
As you gather around the table with friends and family on Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to reflect on all you have been given. Invite those at your table to share what they are thankful for and then pray this prayer together:
God, who gives us all good gifts and who is the source of every blessing we have, hear our prayer as we gather to give thanks for all that you have set before us. We are grateful not only for the food that graces our table in such abundance, but also for the bond of family and friends, strengthened by the meal we share, and by the warmth of your love that comes to us each day through your benevolent mercy. Help us to use wisely all the gracious gifts you have showered upon us for the benefit of ourselves, our family, and our nation. On this Thanksgiving Day may we acknowledge that every good thing comes to us from you, and may your bounty never cease, so that we may share your blessings with those in need. Amen. ©Liturgical Press Inc.