21# I tell you the very first American Christmas!
Once upon a time, in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean…..but not only all historians are really agree upon when it comes to the character of Christopher Columbus!
There are really lot of historical proof that the first exploration of North America happened nearly 500 years before Columbus by Norse explorers who landed in modern day Newfoundland, or another stories…for example, do you remember the story of Madoc?
But even if proof exists that Columbus was not the first one here, exists some proof that Columbus was the first to celebrate Christmas in the Americas!
It was a Christmas of merry-making, but overall disaster! Why?
To understand the full story and the confusion, we need to understand the controversial history of Christopher Columbus, in which the confusion reigns, even now, because Columbus himself left conflicting memories. He wrote one journal of his first voyage that was visible to all his (unhappy) crew, but he wrote also another to record his deepest thoughts, greatest fears and his most confidential thoughts.
Columbus did not have a lot of supporters in his cause of exploration. He searched sponsors to bankroll his expedition because there were no guarantees that he would find the riches of the New World that he sought. He found the backing he needed from the Spanish crown, but finding a crew to buy into his theory that the world was round was a really hard mission. His crew was suspicious from the start and grew more and more unsettled as they sailed more than five weeks after their August 1492 departure.
So when land was finally found on October 12, 1492 it was with great relief of all the crew members, even if Columbus still thought he was within short distances of Japan.
Motivated by gold and the purpose to find Christian converts, Columbus explored the islands of the Caribbean giving Christian names to locations he would mark on his maps. Two of his three ships, the Nina and the Pinta, were captained by two brothers who carried some of the same urgency Columbus had, even if they seemed to be more motivated by gold than converts! Columbus plodded along slowly, trading and making friends with natives as he went along, all for laying a friendly foundation for future explorations and eventual Spanish settlements.
The intrepid mariner Christopher Columbus, entered the port of Bohio, in the Island of Haiti, on St. Nicholas Day, December 6, 1492. In honor of the day, he named that port Saint Nicholas.
The Captain of the Pinta Martin Pinzon, slipped away in search of a rumored stockpile of gold on neighboring islands. So, the caravel Pinta with its crew had parted from the other two ships and gone its own way, so the Santa Maria and the Niña sailed on together, occasionally stopping where the port seemed inviting.
Columbus stuck to the north coast of Hispaniola, the modern Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
It was here that Columbus discovered a small village of friendly natives. Thinking he had found Japan, and imagining the gold-roofed palaces and pagodas about which Marco Polo and John Mandeville had written in their travelers’ stories, Columbus stopped for a visit and received a warm welcome.
After spending time working out the language barrier Columbus began to work a bit on the conversion process and attempted to teach the natives of Christ. So they engaged in a three-day celebration of Christmas.
Christmas even then was not so different from today’s Christmas. There were people, like Columbus, who took it as a religious observance, and there were others amongst his crew who viewed the days leading up to Christmas as a time to party. For a couple of days, the natives and the crew of the Santa Maria became very friendly and familiar with each other.
While they met with a tribal chief, the celebration moved and extended from one day to two without sleep until on Christmas Eve.
On the Santa Maria, the Admiral and his men were tired from continuously keeping watch, and as the sea was smooth and the wind favorable, they retired to their quarters below deck to sleep on Christmas Eve, leaving the ship in care of a boy.
Disaster struck when the ship ran aground, and Columbus was roused from his bed to find the Santa Maria in terrible conditions!
Fortunately no lives were lost, and the wreckage furnished material for the building of a fortress. This task occupied the men’s time during the remainder of the Christmas season.
With the help of the natives, canoes were sent out to help the boats unload the cargo from the Santa Maria.
Columbus was stuck: the Nina, who remained close by, could not handle the crew from the Santa Maria and though not intending to settle the lands of his discovery already Columbus declared the spot a settlement, after receiving the permission of the native chief, and named it La Navidad (present day Môle-Saint-Nicolas).
But what a difficult Christmas morning for Columbus and his men, stranded on an island far from home, among a strange people!
Leaving about a week later, Columbus instructed the crew of 40 men he left behind to defend their fort, built from the ruins of the Santa Maria, and to spend their time in pursuit of gold. Leaving provisions sufficient for one year, Columbus bade farewell to those 39 men whom he would never see again, and sailed to Spain on January 4, 1493 to report the news of his Discovery, which thenceforth would be called the New World.
Nobody know exactly what happened to La Navidad: the site of that first settlement has not never been found, and when Columbus returned nearly a year later he found the spot abandoned. His leaderless crew was nowhere to be found and it was only later learned that they had expanded upon their Christmas party by taking a number of the native women to wife, angering a lot the natives who killed them.
Four hundred years later, the anchor of the Santa Maria was discovered and brought to the United States to be one of its treasured exhibits at the great Columbian Exposition.
Christopher Columbus is still today know in history as a controversial figure: some hail him as a harmless explorer, while others accuse him of being a brutal conqueror. However, no one has reason to doubt the first Christmas spent under his direction in the Americas! What for Columbus seemed a cruel fate, losing the Santa Maria and leaving his men behind in that fortress, was actually a valuable gift to History. If the Santa Maria not wrecked, but continued her navigation in safety that Christmas Eve, the fortress of La Navidad or any European settlement probably would not have been founded in the New World on Columbus’ first voyage. So, although it was a sad, troubled Christmas for the Spanish adventurers, it proved memorable in the history of America!