The yearly pageantry featuring paper pilgrim hats, bonnets and Indian headdresses allude to the traditional picture of the “first” Thanksgiving gathering in 1621 at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts of Native Americans and European Puritan pilgrims. But Catholic sources noted there were two thanksgiving events held several decades before that which were deeply rooted in the Catholic faith, through Spain’s cultural influence.  

The first event, according to catholicstand.com, was Sept. 8, 1565, upon the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in St. Augustine, Florida. Spanish settlers and Timucuan Indians gathered for a Mass and thanksgiving feast.  

A second similar thanksgiving occurred on April 30, 1598 in El Paso, Texas when Don Juan Oñate, a Spanish explorer, conquistador and colonial governor, declared a day of Thanksgiving be commemorated with a Mass, according to Catholic education.org. On this day Oñate formally proclaimed “La Toma,” claiming the land north of the Rio Grande for the king of Spain. The men feasted on duck, goose and fish from the river and actors presented a play.  

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Even the Plymouth Rock event had Catholic ties as well, through the Pawtuxet Indian Squanto, also called the “Catholic Native American Indian Hero,” who made Thanksgiving possible.  

Squanto, also known as Tisquantum, was 10 years old when the English captured him, took him to England and taught him English so he could facilitate trade negotiations with Native Americans who inhabited the coastal village, according to agapebiblestudy.com.  

When he was in his early 20s Squanto was serving as interpreter on a ship captained by John Smith, who played a vital role in establishing the English Colony at Jamestown, Virginia.  

When Smith anchored off the shore near Squanto’s home, Smith allowed him to return to his village. Squanto was captured again a year later while trying to negotiate trade with an English ship. This time he was taken to Spain and put up for sale on a slave market. Some Franciscan friars gathered enough money to purchase Squanto’s freedom and he went back with them to the monastery. He converted to the Catholic faith and learned Spanish.  

After his baptism, Squanto returned to his native land in order to evangelize Native Americans. However, upon arriving in his home village in Plymouth, Squanto discovered all its members had died from diseases contracted from white traders.  

Living with a nearby Wampanoag tribe for the next couple of years, Squanto learned that a small group of white people had settled in his home village. He was told they probably wouldn’t be there much longer because many had died from the previous harsh winter and the rest were starving. 

Seeing the destitute circumstances of the pilgrims himself, Squanto captured some large eels and made stew for them. So hungry that any food before them was considered a sumptuous meal, the pilgrims ate the stew. Squanto then taught them how to plant corn, hunt deer and trap other animals, catch fish and live off the land.  

To celebrate their first successful harvest a year later, the pilgrims invited Squanto and the Wampanoag tribe to celebrate with them. The Indians brought the deer meat and wild turkey. The festivities lasted for three days.  

And similar festivities will continue this Thanksgiving, with Saints fans hoping to indulge in a dessert of sweet revenge after feasting on Falcon. Just remember that Eucharist means “thanksgiving” so thank Jesus for his sacrifice on the cross to ensure us a seat at the table of the heavenly banquet.