Your Weekly Dose of Spanish by Spaniology: Semana 18

Published in Dungarvan Leader Page 21 on Tuesday 23th of November 2021


Our Transatlantic brethren will be carving the turkey (and that is not a euphemism) this week to celebrate their popular Thanksgiving Day. This is observed in the U.S.A. to commemorate the dinner and religious service that the first pilgrims had on North American soil to thank God for a bountiful harvest. Anglo-Protestant tradition, albeit with some disagreement on the date and place, ascribes it to the Founding Fathers in 1621 in Plymouth (Massachusetts), when they sat together with the Wampanoag tribe to share their fare and express their gratitude for the fruits of the land.

But historian Michael Gannon, of the University of Florida, holds a different theory. European colonisation of the North American subcontinent commenced in 1513, when Juan Ponce de León (pronounced pon-thay; any similarity to English is a mere coincidence) claimed the peninsula of Florida for the Spanish Crown. In 1565, the town of Saint Augustine was founded by Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, which remains the oldest continuously-inhabited European-established settlement in the United States.

Dr. Gannon found colonial records which relate how Don Pedro and his men were welcomed peacefully by the local Timucua tribe. In gratitude for this reception and their safe arrival, the Spaniards held a Misa de Acción de Gracias (Thanksgiving Mass) and a banquet to which the Timucua were also invited, as the priest who gave the mass, P. Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, wrote in his records.

As Gannon claims in his book The Cross in the Sand, this is the original and first Thanksgiving celebrated on North American soil, 56 years before the English pilgrims reciprocated in Massachusetts. And what titbits and morsels were shared in this primeval banquet? Colonial records inform us that the Spaniards contributed with cocido —a stew of chickpeas, onion and salted pork—, sea biscuits with cheese, olive oil, garlic seasoning and red wine. The Indians provided the exotic touch with local game and fish —including venison, turkey, alligator and oysters—, squash, beans and maize.

Given the circumstances of the Spaniards, only disembarked from a long sea voyage, the fare was not that shabby. Since admiral Pedro Menéndez de Aviles hailed from Asturias in Northern Spain —as yours truly, which evidently had to be shoehorned into the article—, where this type of stew is quite popular, he probably had a say in the menu. They also seem to have been so impressed by local cuisine that they imported all those products into the Old World —might not have been too keen on the alligator, though—.

If you have any North American relatives or friends preparing to celebrate this popular day, perhaps you can remind them that they should start calling it Día de Acción de Gracias and add Spanish cocido to the menu.

* Here is your weekly dose of Spanish: El día de fiesta fue observado después de la Misa, Menéndez hizo que los indios comieran. [The feast day was observed after mass, Menéndez had the Indians fed (from the records of P. Francisco López de Mendoza)]

Sergio Fernández Redondo

Sergio hails from Asturias in northern Spain and has recently relocated to Dungarvan, where he is a Spanish teacher and PR specialist at Spaniology. Having an eclectic background in engineering, translation and linguistics, he is also a keen aficionado of history and languages.


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