In 1621, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe celebrated three days of Thanksgiving. The European immigrants and Native Americans gathered to feast and commemorate a successful harvest. The Indians taught the Pilgrims how to plant food and live off the land. Subsequent American generations followed the Pilgrim example and held days of Thanksgiving. This popular story is generally considered the first Thanksgiving in America. However, the Pilgrim celebration was not the first Thanksgiving. Instead of English settlers, it was the Spanish who celebrated the first Thanksgiving in America in 1565.
A group of Spanish immigrants landed in Florida in 1565. After making it ashore at what became St. Augustine, the Spanish decided to have a day of Thanksgiving. They held mass and feasted to celebrate their safe arrival. The arduous trip from Europe to the New World was wrought with danger. Disease, malnutrition, and inclement weather threatened every ship crossing the Atlantic. Some sailors believed in sea monsters. So, making it to America in the mid-16th century was cause for celebration.
Unlike the Pilgrim Thanksgiving, the Spanish version was not a harvest festival. Those festivals celebrate the harvest and good fortune for the year. People did not have supermarkets and their crops were their life and livelihood. The celebrations included religious overtones as people believed God controlled their fates. The 1565 Spanish celebration included a mass, but dealt with their safe passage to America as opposed to a bountiful harvest.
Other Spanish Thanksgivings followed, but quickly forgotten. The first English version occurred in 1619 Virginia, but is also forgotten. Two years later, the Pilgrims held their first Thanksgiving. Unlike their Spanish predecessors, the Pilgrims are remembered. They left several personal accounts of the 1621 observance. As a result, historians and the public celebrate their accomplishments. Additionally, Pilgrim mythology is more endearing than Spanish or even Virginian history. The Pilgrims endured many trials in the New World as they sought to escape oppressive England and gain religious freedom. This fits American ideology better than a group seeking fame and fortune. Additionally, they spoke English and not Spanish which makes their accounts more accessible.
The Pilgrims did not celebrate the first Thanksgiving in America. The first real observance occurred in 1565 when the Spanish survived the ocean trek. Other Thanksgivings followed in Spanish America and English Virginia. The Pilgrim celebration occurred 56 years after the St. Augustine affair. However, these earlier events disappeared into the mists. Meanwhile, the Pilgrims had better public relations and their story is easier to relate to. As a result, Americans celebrate the Pilgrim Thanksgiving each year while ignoring the Spanish or Virginian events.