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A Tale of Two Thanksgivings
Statue of Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales in present-day St. Augustine (Photo courtesy Ebyabe, Wikimedia Commons)

A Tale of Two Thanksgivings

By Alana Turingan

Holiday excitement is in the air. As November arrives we of course recall the famous story of the first Thanksgiving: the 1621 feast of good harvest between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag tribe. 

But what about the other European explorers who had celebrated their arrival on the Floridian peninsula a century before? 

After all, many feasts were held in the 1500s: by Juan Ponce de León in 1528 and 1531; by Pánfilo de Narváez around Tampa Bay and St. Marks in 1528; by Hernando de Soto in 1539 at Shaw’s Point; by Father Luis Cáncer de Barbastro in 1549 at Tampa Bay; by Tristán de Luna in 1559 at Penascola Bay; and even by René Goulaine de Laudonnière of France, who celebrated with the Timucua Indians near present day Jacksonville on June 30, 1564. 

Two feasts stand out in particular. After sighting land on August 28, 1565, St. Augustine’s feast day, Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales presided over a mass to celebrate safely landing in the new world. Following the service, Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles organized a feast and invited the Timucua tribe. St. Augustine was founded here.

Later, Juan de Oñate led a 50-day exploration through the Chihuahuan Dessert. The exploration ended with the discovery of the Rio Grande and a feast of thanks with the Mansos Indians on April 30, 1598 near San Elizario, Texas. They gave thanks not just for surviving the desert. They also had a political motive: staking Spain’s claim on La Toma, the Rio Grande. 

For the Spaniards and French, thanksgiving was more than a harvest celebration. It was an act of gratitude for finding new land and claiming the territory for their European empires. As we sit down with our families it’s important to remember the multiple facets of the first Thanksgiving and appreciate how these narratives weave into the American identity.

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