In El Paso, Some Celebrate Thanksgiving In April

The ‘First Thanksgiving’ may have happened closer to home than you thought.

By Rhonda Fanning and Michael MarksNovember 23, 2017 10:00 am

The Mayflower didn’t make its way down the Rio Grande, but some say that the ‘First Thanksgiving’ was actually in Texas. They’re talking about a different historic feast, this one celebrated by a Spanish expedition in El Paso.

Joe Estala, artistic director for the El Paso Mission Trail Association, says it happened more than 20 years before the pilgrims arrived at Plymouth Rock.

“The El Paso connection is that the first Thanksgiving that happened in North America was first with the arrival of the Spanish through an expedition by Juan de Oñate,” Estala says. “This occurred in 1598.”

Estala says that Juan de Oñate’s expedition of around 500 people made the difficult journey and settled in far east El Paso County.

“They came across some natives in the area who helped them, and a few days later what they called a miraculous rain, right when they were about to give in, this rain appeared out of nowhere and it saved their lives and it helped them finish the expedition,” he says.

Estala says they held a celebratory mass and a feast – which very few people know about today. That’s why the El Paso Mission Trail Association reenacts El Paso’s ‘First Thanksgiving’ for the public.

“What I like about our First Thanksgiving is that it takes away the parades, it takes away the football games, and it just helps us to focus on two cultures from different parts of the world coming together and helping each other,” he says.


Written by Jen Rice.