Tutoring a grade school child last week, I helped her with a handout on Thanksgiving. It was the traditional Pilgrim story, but with a twist.
According to the wisdom of the authors, the Pilgrims celebrated Thanksgiving with a meal and songs and games. No mention of a religious service of Thanksgiving. Nary a hint that the Pilgrims had come to these shores seeking the freedom to practice their religion that was being denied them in England. They would go on to establish a theocratic government themselves that might welcome the unbaptized Wampanoags around the table but would actively persecute Anglicans, Baptists, and Catholics, also a part of American history that is overlooked and seems rather relevant just now.
It is long past time for Christians to reclaim religious holidays and re-establish the importance of religious life in the forming of American culture. It ought to start by protesting the surgical excision of such relevant facts as the religious origin of Thanksgiving from our schools. After all—if there is Thanksgiving, the folks celebrating it must be giving thanks to SOMEONE….
And while we are at it, let’s correct another little historical inaccuracy. The first Thanksgiving was not 1621 with the Pilgrims and their post-reformation Protestant Puritanism in the Plymouth Colony. It was 56 years earlier in St. Augustine, Florida and it was a Catholic mass.
By the time the Pigrims had their first hard winter in New England, St. Augustuine was a thriving city. On September 8, 1565, the Spaniards, led by Pedro Mendez de Avila, celebrated a mass of thanksgiving for the founding of the settlement and shared a meal with the Timicuan Indians. Featured on the menu was bean soup and venison rather than turkey.
And if one wants another anchor for the thoroughly Catholic claim to the establishment of Thanksgiving in America, thirty-three years later, still well in advance of Plymouth, Don Juan de Onate would do the same in Texas. Mass and feast, it's the Catholic way.
The mass is always and ever a meal of thanksgiving. And let’s face it, nobody does feast days better than Catholics. In the worlds of Hillarie Belloc:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
As much as modern secular cociety would like to expunge the very motion of religion from our history, the fabric of American life is tied up with religious life, thought and expression. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we set the record straight—for all Christians, complete with warts as well as wonders—and give thanks that, in spite of all the bone-headed things we do, God loves us.
Just doesn’t get any better than that. Happy Thanksgiving.