Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

4-30 NM's First Thanksgiving

WED, 4-30-08

SANTA FE - Today, April 30, marks the 410th anniversary of New Mexico's first Thanksgiving. Next November, America will celebrate the measly 387th observance of the celebration at Plymouth, Massachusetts.
That's fair. Winners write history. But it would be nice if they, at least, would recognize other similar celebrations, especially when they are older.
The current President George Bush got that off to a good start the day before Thanksgiving last year when he paid a visit to Berkeley Plantation on the banks of the James River where a similar celebration was held on Dec. 4, 1619, almost two years before the 1621 Pilgrim celebration.
The president's visit was in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. It would be appropriate for the president to visit Santa Fe the day before Thanksgiving this year to celebrate this city's 400th anniversary.
Maybe Santa Fe's 400th organizing committee should consider an invitation to the president. It might work. Santa Fe will be celebrating its 400th birthday for the next three years. So if this president doesn't come, the next one still is a possibility.
The reason for Santa Fe's lengthy celebration is that about a decade ago historians discovered evidence the city may have been founded at least three years earlier than the traditional 1610 date.
But instead of grabbing onto 1607 and claiming that Santa Fe is at least as old as Jamestown (which hasn't existed for centuries) our capital city still is planning a celebration that probably should have been held last year.
And so, Santa Fe's celebration will extend from 2007 to 2010 in order to accommodate all views. That isn't out of character for the nation's oldest community. If it is to preserve its heritage, any change must be thoroughly considered.
Santa Fe and Jamestown aren't the only additional claimants to the first Thanksgiving. St. Augustine, Fla. celebrated its first Thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565, so it beat the Pilgrims by 56 years.
Santa Fe and St. Augustine, however, suffer from being founded by Spain and from celebrating with a Catholic mass. Hispanics and Catholics have been marginalized in our nation's early history. Since I am neither one of those, I can make that statement without being accused of whining. It's merely a dispassionate observation about how history works.
But it doesn't mean we can't try for some recognition. Hispanics are America's fastest-growing minority and any president would be smart to give them some deserved attention.
New Mexico's first Thanksgiving wasn't held in Santa Fe. It was celebrated on the banks of the Rio Grande (Rio Bravo, back then) near the present city of El Paso. Don Juan de Onate ordered a mass followed by a huge feast to give thanks for having crossed safely into the kingdom of New Spain.
The event never has been celebrated in our state, to my knowledge. But some El Pasoans began observing it a decade or so ago. They even took a group, dressed as conquistadors, to Plymouth, Mass. to stir up some notice for Onate's first Thanksgiving.
Joint celebrations in El Paso, southern Dona Ana County and Santa Fe next November wouldn't be a bad idea. Onate's Thanksgiving celebration, somewhere near the New Mexico-Texas border, by far was the grandest of all the early feasts.
Onate, a rich man, brought a four-mile caravan, with over 80 wagons, 10,000 head of livestock and 560 people. They dined on roast meat, fish and native vegetables. St. Augustine's menu was bean soup. Jamestown is thought to have roasted a pig. And we know about the Pilgrims' turkey.
A date change for a nationwide celebration is out of the question. President Abraham Lincoln declared the fourth Thursday in November a national holiday and that is where it will stay.
But Thanksgiving isn't a date. It is the concept of giving thanks for our bounty, no matter when how meager it might be.

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