Thanksgiving on September 8th

By Martin Mendiola….
Considered the most family centered holiday in the United States, Thanksgiving has its roots on the many harvest festivals held for centuries throughout the world. In early autumn, after gathering the bounty, villagers would congregate to feast and thank God for the plentiful growing season. Over the years, most festivals have had religious origins, and many were celebrated during seasonal changes to either thank or invoke the betterment of the food supply.

The reason as to why Thanksgiving is considered the most family centered holiday in the United States, is because members of most religions participate and Christmas has become extremely commercialized. Regretfully, too many Americans are forgetting the true meaning of Christmas and are making it more about shopping, exchanging gifts and partying with friends. There is a lot to be said about gathering with the family, thanking God for our blessings and enjoying a festive meal.

Thanksgiving is a very important holiday for our family. It has always been my mother’s favorite since she is able to gather everyone under one roof in a spiritual bliss and show off her cooking skills. It also gives her the opportunity to invite people she likes and wants the rest of us to meet as she did with our new next door neighbor who later became my wife some 35 years ago.

Thanksgiving was also the subject of the first article I ever wrote at Miami Jackson High, winning a $50 savings bond from the Kiwanis Club that was presented at the Lighthouse Restaurant “on the ocean, on the north side of the Haulover Bridge in Miami Beach”. The Thanksgiving holidays themselves have given us many reasons to be joyful and thankful.

That first article was about how Cubans, relatively new to this country, celebrated the holidays with the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy (so as not to offend our host country), but made sure there was rice and black beans. “Tasajo” a shredded dry beef dish similar to “ropa vieja” was always my favorite. To this day, proud to be a part of and not just be hosted, we still have the “tasajo” with the turkey, mashed potatoes, rice and black beans.

As we started our research, we found that every ethnic group basically does the same thing. Not the rice and black beans of course, but for example, Italians who have quite a hard time finding turkeys in Italy will add an antipasti and pasta course to the turkey and mashed. Japanese-Americans will have rice (sometimes deliciously made with chestnuts) and tsukemono, literally translated as “pickled things”; a combination of vegetables like cucumbers, cabbage, radishes and carrots.

Brazilians will not hesitate to stuff their turkey with “farofa” (a flour made from yucca or cassava also used to make tapioca) when made with raisins, nuts and fruits like apples and bananas or as an accompaniment in its own right just like rice. We are told that Russian-Americans have adapted very well to the turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. The old country part of a Russian Thanksgiving supposedly comes from the many vodka toasts required to express their gratitude. As told by a friend “We toast to America and express our gratitude. Given the time, vodka and number of toasts, we could easily become Pilgrims”. Besides the United States, there are seven other countries that celebrate an official Thanksgiving Day: Argentina, Brazil Canada, Japan, Korea, Liberia, and Switzerland. They all have different menus and are held on different dates.

While we all have pictures of our kids or relatives dressed up in Pilgrim’s hats and Indian attires giving credit to the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag People for our first Thanksgiving in 1621, retired University of Florida historian, Michael V. Gannon sometimes dubbed “The Grinch who stole Thanksgiving” and Florida teacher, Robyn Gioia disagree. According to Gannon and Gioia, the very first Thanksgiving was held 56 years earlier than the famous meal in Plymouth, Mass. Gannon and Gioia claim that on September 8th, 1565 Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez de Avila met with the Timucua Indians in St. Augustine, Florida and after a Catholic mass feasted with bean soup in the spirit of thanks.

Many reasons are given as to why September 8th is not recognized as the official day for Thanksgiving in the United States. An interesting version is the one about de Avila being Spanish and holding the feast in his native language, which therefore was called something other than Thanksgiving. There had to be other reasons, for the opportunity to choose another time and place was readily available. There is evidence that the Commonwealth of Virginia was having thanksgiving celebrations as early as 1607, yet they were not chosen either.

Some jest that since President Lincoln, a native Kentuckian was the one to issue the presidential proclamation establishing the date when Thanksgiving would be held and therefore ratifying the history behind it, he picked the Pilgrims and Plymouth, Mass. because he preferred turkey over beans. We could find no records as to what was served at the Virginia celebrations, but it had to be better than turkey.

Since the Thanksgiving Holidays have been so good to us, from now on, we intend to also give thanks and celebrate on September 8th with Fabada Asturiana. We hope it is the bean soup Pedro Menendez de Avila had with the Timucua Indians in St. Augustine since it is too good a story to spoil with just any other bean soup. Happy Thanksgiving.

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