26 November 2008

Catholics Did It First

If you're ecumenically-minded like me and don't take kindly to celebrating a holiday commemorating a group of Calvinists who set up a Puritan theocracy in New England known for persecuting Catholics, then you can rest easy; the heretics were not the first to celebrate Thanksgiving in this country--Catholics were.

St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest settlement in the United States, founded in 1565 by Spanish explorers. On September 8 of that year, the Nativity of Mary, a Mass of Thanksgiving was held, after which a communal feast was celebrated and the local Seloy tribe invited to attend. The event is significant because it was the first communal thanksgiving celebration in the first permanently settled European colony on American soil.

Others say the date of April 30, 1598, was also significant: Spanish settlers from Mexico set up camp in Southwestern America, held a Mass of thanksgiving, and named the land New Mexico in honor of God, and of King Philip II. A feast was held, Franciscan priests blessing the food before everyone ate to their satisfaction. At the end of the meal, plays were enacted depicting scenes of Native Americans upon first hearing the Catholic faith.

After the Spanish were defeated by the British and driven out of the colonies, it became more expedient and attractive to focus on the 1621 date marking the arrival of the Pilgrims to celebrate this national holiday of thanksgiving--and Americans have done so ever since, entirely obliterating from national memory any influence from earlier Spanish Catholic settlers. But don't let such revisionist history fool you; Catholics have as much claim to this celebration as anyone, if not more. So a blessed and happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, safe travels--and remember, while you're gorging yourself on leftover turkey or madly dashing from store to store on your post-Thanksgiving shopping spree, that (thanks to Fr. Mercer's reminder) Friday remains a day of penitential observance...

Ah, to be Catholic!