Mission San Luis commemorates the very first Christmas event held within the deSoto encampment here in Tallahassee. This is a day long celebration with re-enactors creating viable scenes to replicate life as it was lived in the encampment and later in the missions. There are demonstrations by the blacksmith, the barbeque man, food preparation, black drink samples, and, even conquistadors riding on horseback or wandering amongst you. A Christmas mass is held in the church, with the service replicating most of the deSoto mass. He brought priests with him to our state. The priests and friars kept excellent records, which helps us gain needed information to observe the day like the deSoto expedition could have.
Doug Alderson, writing in the Tallahassee Magazine, 1983, describes the first North American Christmas in 1539. deSoto had just completed a grueling march across our peninsula, and what was left of his original band of 600 men, twelve priests and one woman were barely alive. Hostile Indians kept ambushing them, angry because of the Spaniards' habits of stealing women and food. The long search deSoto had undertaken to find gold and jewels was more than disappointing. In view of the conditions, the Christmas celebration must have been subdued, with probably a traditional benediction by the five remaining priests, along with prayers.
Over the years, local history buffs have insisted that the ceremony was held at the Lake Jackson Indian Mounds. In 1974, the City Commission tried to recognize the event at the mounds for the U.S. Bi-centennial, but the idea was turned down by the Postal Service Committee because they had already chosen the commemoratives. State archeologist Calvin Jones disputed claims that the ceremony was ever held at the Mounds. He maintained that deSoto never mentioned mounds or a lake or large plain. Jones felt that the ceremony was held at the large Apalachee village which is the present San Luis Mission archeological site. Whatever the exact location, you can assume that our continents first offical Yuletide was observed here in Leon County.