Thursday, November 26, 2009
The REAL First Thanksgiving Was in El Paso
Actually the Pilgrims weren't first.
True: the US celebrates Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday each November in their honor. And, yes, family members and friends hold a hearty Thanksgiving dinner, gathering in memory of how they celebrated at Plymouth Plantation in 1621. Their three day harvest celebration of feasting with fowl and with five deer brought by the Native Americans is an important element in the American story.
But the Southwest remembers a different gathering, and it is older. From the New Mexico Genealogical Society:
On April 30, 1598, Spanish nobleman Don Juan de Oñate and a group of settlers traveling northward from Zacatecas, Nueva España (now Mexico), reached the banks of El Rio Bravo (Rio Grande). The first recorded act of thanksgiving by colonizing Europeans on this continent occurred on that April day in 1598 in Nuevo Mexico, about 25 miles south of what is now El Paso, Texas.
The 400 person colonizing expedition is well recorded by Gaspar Perez de Villagrá, Spanish poet who traveled with the group. They were in quest of land and honor, but, Villagrá says: "We were sadly lacking in all knowledge of the stars, the winds, and other knowledge by which to guide our steps."
On April 30, 1598, the scouts made camp along the Rio Grande and prepared to drink and eat their fill, for there they found fishes and waterfowl.
Villagrá wrote, "We built a great bonfire and roasted meat and fish, and then sat down to a repast the like of which we had never enjoyed before." Before this bountiful meal, the expedition leader Don Juan de Oñate personally nailed a cross to a living tree and prayed.
So on April 30, many with roots in New Mexico commemorate that First Thanksgiving, not with "turkey and all the trimmings" but with the knowledge that its ancestors helped settle and develop this land-through tenacity, perseverance and deep faith. It is partly through their contributions that America was destined to become unique; providing freedom as well as opportunity to all people wishing to come to its shores. -- The New Mexico Genealogical Society
This report is illustrated with photos of a well-known painting by preeminent El Paso artist Hal Marcus: El Paso Thanksgiving/El Paso Gracias a Dios. It hangs at Chamizal National Monument in El Paso, Texas. The artist's statement accompanies the oil on canvas:
"This is my imaginative scenario of El Paso's first Thanksgiving. I tried to convey the celebration of life that makes this theme the cultural banquet that it is. It's a poetic vision. In 1598, nearly 23 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, a large group of Spanish colonists rested from their hard march northward and gave thanks along the banks of the Rio Grande long before there were borders. They feasted with the Jumano Indians who greeted them. This scenario is my dream with all the spirits, archetypes and imagery of Mexico past, present and future in El Paso.
EL SOL is the gloriously golden Sun Carnival Host gazing at us with the eyes of perception and ageless beauty."
The painting is dedicated to the Chamizal National Memorial.
Prints of the work are available for sale at the Hal Marcus website.
Everyday, think as you wake up: Today I am fortunate to have woken up. I am alive. I have a precious human life. I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself to expand my heart out to others for the benefit of all beings. ~ His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Living with an attitude of Thanksgiving is more important than quibbling over who was first. Give thanks for this day. Thank you for reading this report. Billie Greenwood
The New Mexico Genealogical Society website: "The First Thanksgiving (The Pilgrims Missed It)" by Pauline Chavez Bent
Word for the Day: www.gratefulness.org