Into the tapestry of Thanksgiving are woven many Catholic threads

After a lengthy hiatus, Keeping the Feast returns just in time for Thanksgiving, the quintessentially American holiday that truly revolves feast thanksgiving 002around food, family and faith.

Since Keeping the Feast has always been a mix of all those ingredients, I wanted this entry to reflect them and decided to weave Catholic elements into a Thanksgiving blog entry.  For, while the Pilgrim origins of the holiday have always had an intrinsic place at our table, i.e., a full turkey and all the trimmings dinner, like many American families, the menu includes treasured heritage recipes.

In our case, that translates to Italian fare — pasta, brasciole, a huge green salad and crunchy Italian bread — all hallmarks of the table Grandma set each Sunday after Mass.

That memory stimulated my appetite enough that I decided to search out Catholic connections to Thanksgiving on the Internet. The search was inspired by some of the insights garnered from putting together Page 2 of The Monitor every other week

Working on Page 2  — aka At A Glance — includes researching for a section called “This Week in Church History”  and because of it, I’ve become mindful of a whole bounty of very early Catholic history in Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana and the like and even in Pilgrim country that tell a remarkable story of faith. It didn’t take long in the search to find some Thanksgiving parallels.

The following nuggets are some of the results of that search:

Some historians maintain that the first actual Thanksgiving in what would become part of the United States was held by Spaniards and native Americans in the Saint Augustine Fort Florida in 1565. According to a post by Taylor Marshall, a former Episcopalian priest who is chancellor of the College of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More and author of the noted Catholic blog Canterbury Tales.

Marshall, president of the New Saint Thomas Institute, an initiative offering theology classes to students in 24 nations (who also blogs at wrote  that the banquet in San Augustine followed Mass offered by a Franciscan priest in the company of the explorer, Captain Pedro Menendez de Aviles before any of the Indians converted to the faith.

Other Thanksgiving insights come from Adam Miller, author of “Discovering A Lost Heritage, the Catholic Origins of America” whose research uncovered two celebrations that might qualify as “first thanksgivings” north of the Rio Grande in Texas. The first, in 1541 was a feast of thanksgiving in which the newly converted Indians of Northern Texas and Francisco Coronado’s expeditionary force joined in prayer and communal festivities. Father Juan Padilla offered the Mass. The first American martyr, he would be slain the following year by hostile Indians in what would one day become Kansas.

The second thanksgiving feast on April 30, 1598, became an annual celebration in the area of what would become New Mexico not far from where a mission named San Juan would be built a few years later. Here, Miller writes, explorer Juan de Onate and the Franciscans erected a large cross as Onate placed the land under the dominion of Christ the King on what was the feast of the Ascension.

The local native Americans eagerly embraced Catholicism, Miller writes, and the custom to hold a banquet/fiesta annually to commemorate the first “Thanksgiving celebration”  continues more than 400 years later.

Another addition from Marshall to this interesting mix involves Squanto — the Native American who is said to have negotiated a peace treaty between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Confederacy of local tribes. According to Marshall, Squanto was a baptized Catholic when he helped the Pilgrims. Marshall writes that Squanto had been taken prisoner by English sea faring marauders around 1615 and taken across the ocean to be sold as slaves. On a stop in Malaga, Spain, Squanto was said to have been sold to Franciscan friars who had a mission to buy poor slaves, convert them and send them back to their native shores as lay apostles.

Squanto made it back to his home in what would become the Massachusetts Bay Colony to find that his entire village had been decimated by a plague. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, they were astonished to find an indigenous Indian who spoke perfect English. The common banquet between the Pilgrims and the Indians, Marshall writes, was in effect made possible because of the help of Squanto and by extension, those marvelous friars who sought to evangelize by setting people free.

The recipe included in this Thanksgiving entry  for Indian Corn Pudding  reflects a melding of traditions as well. Culled from the Internet, it originated in San Diego, much to my delight, in a local restaurant called the Indigo Grill — Indigo is the given name of my little great-niece who goes mainly by Indie. This easy recipe is such a favorite in San Diego that the local paper, the San Diego Union Tribune, published it five years in a row.

Mix the ingredients together, and you have a flavorful salute to the taste buds of the faithful folk who introduced Thanksgiving to our homeland.

Indigo Grill Indian Corn

Ingredients: 1 pkg. Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix; 1/4 c. PLUS 1 1/2 T. Milk; 1/4 c. butter, melted; 1 T. Tabasco sauce; 1 c. creamed corn; 1 cup grated cheddar cheese;  1/2 c. sour cream; 1/2 c. mayo; 1 white thinly sliced onion.

Directions: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter muffin tin or line with paper liners. A small muffin tin will yield 12, a large tin, which I used, will yield six. In a large bowl, combine the first 5 ingredients and mix well. Fill the tins HALF full.  In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Top each muffin with this mixture to fill the tins. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack. The muffins can be eaten warm or cold. They can be made a day ahead of time and stored covered in the refrigerator to keep out moisture overnight.  The large  muffins can be cut into quarters for sharing if wished.


Prayer for Thanksgiving Day from The Book of Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers


Lord, we thank you for the goodness of our people and for the spirit of justice that fills this nation. We thank you for the beauty and fullness of the land and the challenge of the cities. We thank you for our work and our rest, for one another and for our homes. For all that we have spoken and for all that we keep in our hearts, accept our thanksgiving on this day.


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