Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Very First European Thanksgiving in the U.S. by Mary Louise Sanchez

As a young child growing up in the 1950s we learned about the First Thanksgiving, complete with the trappings of Pilgrims and Indians. I remember building a ship out of large wooden blocks in kindergarten and sitting in our chairs inside the structure we created. It was called the Mayflower.

Another strong memory is learning to play a piano piece from the John Thompson series.  The beginning words to the song were, "The year 1620 the Pilgrims came over. . . ." Now I know the song is more familiar as the Dutch Christian hymn, "We Gather Together" and the beginning words are the same as its title. 

I also sang "Over the River and Through the Woods" from the music books my classmates and I used in our elementary music classes.

In my own family, we enjoyed the traditional American style Thanksgiving.  The smell of yams baking always brings back a memory of when my sister and I were allowed to camp out in our kitchen overnight, as the smells of Thanksgiving permeated our little fort.

 Earlier smells of roasted chiles in the fall were brought to our Thanksgiving table and the tables of our gente (Hispanic close and extended family) through the fresh green chile side dish, with just the addition of salt and a hint of garlic.

Now I can appreciate the significance of fresh green chile, which we always include in our Thanksgiving meal. I give thanks to the Native Americans who introduced this food to the Spaniards over 400 years ago so that in this present day we can enjoy it almost daily.

Chile (green and red) brings an image to me of the first encounter of Native Americans of the Southwest and my ancestors, the European pilgrims from Spain via Mexico. This encounter was an occasion for Europeans to celebrate the very first Thanksgiving in present day United States.

After years of Spanish exploration, the Spanish government, under King Philip II of Spain, decided to send soldiers and their families from Zacatecas, Mexico (New Spain) to colonize further reaches of New Spain, or as we know it today—New Mexico.

 Juan de Oñate was awarded the contract to lead the expedition to the new land where Franciscans had started missionary work.

The colonizers included about one hundred and thirty Spanish soldiers, many with their families, as well as their servants, for a total of around four hundred people. There were also seven thousand head of livestock, eighty-three carts, and materials to start new lives.
Some of the statues commemorating Onate's expedition- Albuquerque, New Mexico Museum of Art & History

Unlike the English Pilgrims of 1620, who came via the Atlantic Ocean on ships,  the Spanish colonizers made a hard journey along a desert route, known today as the Camino Real.  
Goodreads image
At least twenty two years before the English Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock, these colonists arrived at a place near present day El Paso  on April 30, 1598. On that Ascension Day, which is a holy day on the Catholic Church calendar, Juan de Oñate, on the south bank of the Rio Grande, made a formal declaration that this land belonged to Spain and the colonizers gave thanks to God.

Later in May the expedition entered present day New Mexico and established their first capital which they named San Juan de los Caballeros. Just as in the story of the English Pilgrims and the Indians, the Spanish introduced their foods to the native Americans of New Mexico. These natives, in turn, introduced their foods to the Spanish colonizers. One of those foods was—chile. 

Do you have a food on your Thanksgiving or holiday table that gives a nod to your culture and/or traditions?

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  1. Chiles for Thanksgiving - wonderful. Sometimes our Asian family will have Thanksgiving roast duck aside the turkey. And often, I'll make a sweet and sour peanut dipping sauce for the turkey, Thai style. Thank you for your article, Mary Louise!

    1. Your peanut dipping sauce would make the turkey moist! I often think turkey is rather dry.

  2. Fascinating, Mary Louise! Probably the most regional type food we have at Thanksgiving is pecan pie. My husband's family is from Oklahoma and introduced me to okra, sweet potatoes, and pecan pie.

    Deb Watley