6 Amazing Catholic Thanksgiving Facts You Need to Know

When you’re sitting down for that wonderful feast on Thursday, here are 6 interesting Catholic Thanksgiving Facts you can share with your family. Print them out and read them aloud over some pumpkin (or pecan) pie!

Your history teacher probably forgot to teach you that Squanto, the native American hero of the Pilgrim’s first Thanksgiving was Catholic. And your history textbooks probably wrongly told you that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by the Protestant pilgrims of Massachusetts in 1621. Not so. There was the Catholic Thanksgiving of 1565 in Florida and another Catholic Thanksgiving of 1589 in Texas. Read on for 6 Amazing Catholic Thanksgiving Facts

First Catholic Thanksgiving

1. Squanto, the beloved hero of Thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock, was Catholic! (Here’s my short video on how Catholic Squanto saved Thanksgiving.)

Squanto had been enslaved by the English but he was freed by Spanish Franciscans. Squanto thus received baptism and became a Catholic. So it was a baptized Catholic Native American who orchestrated what became known as Thanksgiving. Please take a moment to watch the video below as I explain the story behind the first Thanksgiving and what a group of Franciscan friars did to make it happen. You can retell this story at this year’s Thanksgiving and impress everyone as they eat your delicious pies:

Are you having trouble seeing the “Catholic Squanto” video in your browser or email? Please click here to watch it.

Catholic Thanksgiving Fact 2:

The first American Thanksgiving was actually celebrated on September 8 (feast of the birth of the Blessed Virgin) in 1565 in St. Augustine, Florida. The Native Americans and Spanish settlers held a feast and the Holy Mass was offered. This was 56 years before the Puritan pilgrims of Massachusetts. Don Pedro Menendez came ashore amid the sounding of trumpets, artillery salutes and the firing of cannons to claim the land for King Philip II and Spain. The ship chaplain Fr. Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales chanted the Te Deum and presented a crucifix that Menendez ceremoniously kissed. Then the 500 soldiers, 200 sailors and 100 families and artisans, along with the Timucuan Indians celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in gratitude to God.

Catholic Thanksgiving Fact 3: The second American Thanksgiving happened on April 30, 1598, when Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate requested the friars to say a Mass of Thanksgiving, after which he 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. The actors among them dressed and presented a play. All this took place twenty-three years before the Pilgrims set sail from England on the Mayflower.

Catholic Thanksgiving Fact 4: The Puritan pilgrims were violently anti-Catholic. They left England because they thought that the Church of England was too Catholic. These Puritans were strict Calvinists. The pilgrims also opposed celebrating Christmas, dancing, musical instruments in church, and even hymns as papistical.

Catholic Thanksgiving Puritan jokePURITAN BAN ON CHRISTMAS WAS TO PREVENT DEMONIZATIONS OF CITIZENS IN COMMUNITY

Catholic Thanksgiving Fact 5: So while Thanksgiving may celebrate the Calvinist Separatists who fled England, Catholics might remember the same unjust laws that granted the crown of martyrdom to Thomas More, John Fisher, Edmund Campion, et al. are the same injustices that led the Pilgrims to Plymouth.

Catholic Thanksgiving Fact 6: And let everyone remember that “Thanksgiving” in Greek is Eucharistia. Thus, the Body and Blood of Christ is the true “Thanksgiving Meal”.

And don’t forget to raise your wine glass and recite the wonderful limerick of Hilaire Belloc:

“Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino!”

― Hilaire Belloc

Please share this with your Puritan friends on Facebook (do Puritans prohibit Facebook?). Share it on Facebook by clicking here.

Question: What are some Catholic traditions you’ve added to your Thanksgiving celebration? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • yolo

    It’s no wonder why the nanny-state originated in Massachusetts! There is a history of banning good things and justifying it as doing good. The scary thing is the public (state) schooling model that every state in this nation replicated originated there. Not all states voluntarily replicated it, of course, but that is what we are left with.

  • Kathleen Eubanks

    Check out the history of the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel in Pensacola, FL. St. Augustine may have been the oldest CONTINUOUS settlement but Pensacola has them beat for the first Catholic Mass in Florida. From the St. Michael Catholic Church directory: “1559 – 1781 Early Colonial Period The history of St. Michael Church (now the Basilica of St. Michael the Archangel) is, in may ways, nothing less than the history of Catholicism itself in Northwest Florida. A Spanish expedition under the command of Don Tristan de Luna y Arellano landed on the shore of Pensacola Bay on August 14, 1559, intending to establish the permanent settlement of Mission Santa Maria Filipina. Among the 1500 soldiers and settlers were five Dominican Priests and on lay Brother. The next day, the feast of the Assumption, the holy sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated for the first time in Northwest Florida. Ravaged by a hurricane one month later, which destroyed most of the ships and supplies, the settlement was ultimately abandoned in 1561. It would be . . . 1693 before Spain would again attempt a settlement around the magnificent harbor of Pensacola Bay . . .”
    Couldn’t resist being thankful for our great Pensacola history by showing a little Pensacola pride!
    Thank you for your article, Dr. Marshall.

    • dee toups

      HA! You beat me to it, Kathleen! Dr. Marshall’s article is very good. Just needs to slide those numbers all down a notch. Pensacola. FL stands at number one for the first Mass of Thanksgiving (Eucharist) AND the first settlement (6 years prior to St. Augustine) in America. …Pensacola just happened to be completely wiped out by at least three hurricanes before St. Augustine was even founded! Come to think of it, bet there were more than a few Masses of Thanksgiving in between all those terrible storms. In that case, Pensacola should probably occupy at least the top three spots on Dr. Marshall’s list 🙂

  • Threshermon

    The poem is nice, but not a limerick.

  • KateGladstone

    The Hilaire Belloc poem is good, but is NOT a limerick — it’s a quatrain.

  • KateGladstone

    I wonder … What was Squanto’s baptismal name? And did the Pilgrims ever try to make him a Protestant like themselves?

    • Roman Nose

      Good point. When Squanto was dying he begged the Governor to pray that he might go to the Englishman’s God in heaven as recorded in Governor William Bradford’s History of the English Settlement.

  • EJM

    Dear Dr. Marshall,

    I’m from the Netherlands.
    I want to contact you but I don’t have facebook.
    So I try it this way. Could you send me an e-mail so that I can reply?
    My e-mailadres is edwardwelling@live.nl

    In Christo et Maria,
    Edward Welling

  • Joe Blow

    my Thanksgiving tradition is watching the Lions lose every year, serves them right for how they treated us in the Roman Empire days!

  • Maureen Wiggins

    Our family has each female head of the family say a prayer of Thanksgiving and then light a candle. There will be 9 candles this year.

  • Roman Nose

    enjoyed the vid on Squanto but saying the pilgrims left because the Anglican church was “too Catholic”may confuse.I understand what you meant but the pilgrims/separatists left because of intolerance & arrest of the Scrooby congregation. 1593 Parliament passed a law:absence from Anglican church for more than 1 month=imprisonment so they left for Holland first.

  • Ren

    No, the first Thanksgiving was by the Pilgrims anf had nothing to do with Catholocism. There may be a feast on that day but the Pilgrims were celebrating something different.

    Let the bashing commence…..

    • JustTheFax

      Except Thanksgiving, as the video stated, would never have happened without the Catholic Squanto. That was a major point. No bashing necessary, just facts.

    • Cliff Wolf

      The comparison to thanksgiving the US holiday which began with the pilgrims in Plymouth is merely a play on words in this conversation. The Eucharist is the greek word for thanksgiving and is the celebration of the Mass is the Eucharistic celebration. The first celebration of “Thanksgiving” to the Lord God within the continental US took place on Aug 15, 1559 on Pensacola Beach FL. This fact often gets overlooked by the founding of St Augustine, but it is critical to the history of Catholicism in the US!

  • Matt

    This totally made my Thanksgiving this year. Thanks Taylor. I googled “Thanksgiving” and “catholic” because I was sure something as good as Thanksgiving had to have some correlation to the church and I was NOT let down! I am Catholic and have already told about 6 family members and have been posting this story on social media and a link to your website. Let’s spread the truth about Squanto, the Catholic hero of Thanksgiving!