Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving Day has always had a certain appeal for me. I was born the day after Thanksgiving on November 25, 1955. My mother went into labor on Thanksgiving Day and she said I spoiled her Turkey dinner! But I was born a happy little bundle the next day and she was thankful.

As I was growing up, Thanksgiving Day usually meant that my birthday was near–and even some years my birthday is on Thanksgiving Day and I can pretend all the nation is giving thanks for my birth!

As a child of school age in the early 1960's, I went to public school (my family was Methodist at the time) and I received what I remember was a very good education. There seemed to be a lot of civic lessons presenting a very idealized view of American history. We had a lot of art projects in honor with the holidays.

So at Thanksgiving we were told about the Pilgrims and how they came to America seeking freedom. They sailed on the Mayflower and landed on Plymouth Rock. Their first winter was harsh and many died, but in the autumn of 1621, the Pilgrims and the Indians had a thanksgiving feast together. My imagination was filled with images like these surrounding Thanksgiving:

At the time we also really celebrated autumn and drew or colored trees changing in color (not very evident in Jacksonville, Florida). I was trying to google some examples of the construction paper turkeys we also made in school and had forgotten about the "hand turkeys" we would make in the early grades. Here’s a typical example of the favored genre:

I barely remember what happened 49 years ago on this day, November 22, 1963: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was 8 years old and I only remember that there was a great disturbance at school and the older children seemed very distressed. I learned only much later that little John ("John John") Kennedy, Jr. had his birthday 2 days later, which is also November 25.

And another famous birthday on November 25 was that of Pope John XXIII:

How delighted I was when I became a Catholic in College to discover this. The Council that Pope John convened in 1962, the Second Vatican Council, is being celebrated on its 50th Anniversary in this Year of Faith. I don’t think I would have become a Catholic years later if there had been no change in the Catholic Church. Just the fact of Mass in Latin would have seemed too foreign to me. I have written some reminiscences about this in a prior blog entry ("In Gratitude for the Second Vatican Council" Here).

So I’m getting a haircut yesterday from my barber of many years. He’s a kind of nonconformist Baptist. As I waited my turn he announced that the First Thanksgiving was actually in St. Augustine, Florida. I was surprised that he knew this, but he cuts a number of priests’ hair.

Yes, indeed, the actual First Thanksgiving was in 1565 by the Spanish at St. Augustine. A Mass was celebrated (recall the Eucharist means Thanksgiving in Greek, the original language of most of the early Church). They even had a meal afterward with the native population, the "Indians."

Here is a news article summing up the event:

"ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- Forget the turkey, the silly Pilgrim hats and the buckles.
Forget Plymouth Rock and 1621.

If you want to know about the real first Thanksgiving on American soil, travel 1,200 miles south and more than 50 years earlier to a grassy spot on the Matanzas River in North Florida.

This is where Spanish Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles came ashore on Sept. 8, 1565. This is where he, 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, 100 civilian families and artisans, and the Timucuan Indians who occupied the village of Seloy gathered at a makeshift altar and said the first Christian Mass. And afterward, this is where they held the first Thanksgiving feast.

The Timucuans brought oysters and giant clams. The Spaniards carried from their ships garbanzo beans, olive oil, bread, pork and wine."
So here is a new image for our "Thanksgiving collective memory":

First Thanksgiving Mass 1565. Mural in the Cathedral of St. Augustine, FLorida
I wonder though what it would look like if back in second grade I had to make some craft project, not of turkeys, but of clams and oysters!

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