By Kurt Hyde
Most Texans celebrate Thanksgiving in a tradition handed down from the Pilgrims in 1621, but lately some Texans have been celebrating Thanksgiving based on a similar event, first held near El Paso in 1598.
The Pilgrims established a colony near what is now Plymouth, Mass., in November of 1620. The hardships of the first winter resulted in a loss of almost half the original refugees. Despite such hardships, when the Mayflower departed on its return voyage to England, all the Pilgrims stayed.
The Pilgrims were befriended by Native Americans. Both Samoset and Squanto spoke English before the Pilgrims’ arrival. After receiving help in planting crops, the Pilgrims had a successful harvest in the fall of 1621, and organized a religious celebration of thankfulness that included the Native Americans. The original feast included fowl, deer, wild turkey and seafood.
The Thanksgiving celebration spread to other colonies, but was not regularly scheduled. Thanksgiving as Americans know it today became a national holiday in 1863.
The first Thanksgiving in Texas was celebrated April 30, 1598. An expedition of about 500 people, led by Juan de Oñate, endured hardships while traveling from Santa Barbara, Chihuahua, to what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico. They ran out of food and water while crossing the Chihuahua Desert. The people survived the final five days of this leg of their journey by eating desert vegetation.
When the expedition reached the Rio Grande, two of the horses drank too much water too fast and their stomachs burst.
The expedition rested by the Rio Grande for 10 days, replenishing food supplies as well as water. The group held a celebration feast that included duck, geese and fish. The friars who were part of the expedition celebrated a Mass to thank God for their survival. The expedition then departed north.
There have been many celebrations of thankfulness throughout history, and many of these traditions have borrowed from each other. Texans have two they can call part of their heritage. Celebrate whichever you prefer. Happy Thanksgiving.
All facts and information for this article were gathered from “The Light and the Glory” by Peter Marshall and David Manuel and the “Texas Almanac.”