Thesmophoria: An Ancient Greek Thanksgiving Celebration

Thanksgiving day is celebrated primarily in the United States and Canada. Traditionally it has been a time to give thanks for a bountiful harvest, something that the ancient Greeks also did thousands of years ago.

Today we give give thanks not only for our wonderful provider mother earth, but also for our ancestors having found the new world. Although the holiday may have been religious in origin, now is primarily identified as a secular holiday in North America. In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In the United States it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

For thousands of years festivals for giving thanks have been taking place in many locations around the world. In ancient Greece when the underworld god Hades abducted the young maiden Persephone, her mother Demeter wouldn’t feed the world, and winter came upon the land. When Persephone was restored an elated Demeter gave the gift of agriculture to mankind.

The Greeks believed that because of her the earth provided the bounty it did. Honoring her with offerings and ceremonies would promise a new and fresh harvest each year. The holiday dedicated to Demeter was called Thesmophoria. Demeter was also called Thesmophoros because she gave certain thesmoi ‘laws’ to mankind. The festival Thesmophoria, was held in the fall during a month known as Pyanopsion. It occurred between October and November; in the same months as the Canadian and U.S. Thanksgivings. The Thesmophoria were the most widespread festivals and the main expression of the cult of Demeter, aside from the Eleusinian Mysteries.

Today Greeks in America and Canada not only celebrate the modern day “Thesmophoria,” but also add Greek flavor to the American Thanksgiving tradition. Ask any Greek and they will give you a variation on how to cook the turkey, or, you can get our version of Greek style Turkey.