More than 50 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Spanish explorers celebrated the first American Thanksgiving in Florida.
To herald the event, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam shared Spanish stew, roasted squash and fresh oranges with children at Sylvia Rodriguez Kimbell Elementary School in Tampa Friday.
“Giving thanks for the great bounty of fresh foods we have here in Florida should be part of every day, but it is wonderful to be able to celebrate our First Thanksgiving with schoolchildren,” Putnam said in a statement. “We want to offer our state’s children the opportunity to eat wholesome, local foods every day so that they can grow up healthy and strong.”
Michael Gannon, history professor at the University of Florida, told the St. Augustine Record that Spanish explorers and Native Americans held the first true Thanksgiving on Sept. 8, 1565 – 56 years ahead of the Pilgrims. He said the Spanish founder of St. Augustine, Pedro Menendez de Aviles, and 800 Spanish settlers shared a Mass of Thanksgiving and a Thanksgiving dinner celebration with the Native Americans.
Schools across Florida were invited to celebrate the anniversary of the first Thanksgiving Friday by hosting their own commemorative meals during lunch. Part of the statewide Viva Florida 500 commemoration, the meal paid homage to “foods first cultivated by American Indians in the region and those brought over by Spanish explorers during the discovery of Florida,” according to Putnam’s statement.
The yearlong Viva Florida 500 celebrates five centuries since Juan Ponce de Leon stepped foot in St. Augustine, becoming the first European settler in Florida and introducing the first citrus trees to the state.