The Roots of Thanksgiving in Ancient Greece

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

On Thanksgiving we show gratitude not only for all that we have and for the fruits of the earth but also for our ancestors having come to the new world. Although the holiday was originally religious in origin, it is now a holiday for the secular as well in North America and is seen as a day set aside simply for giving thanks.

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 taken place in many locations around the world. In ancient Greece it was believed that when the god of the Underworld, Hades, abducted the young maiden Persephone, her mother Demeter refused to 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 the earth provided the bounty it did because of her. 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, or laws, to mankind.

The festival of 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.

The Thesmophoria commemorated the kidnapping of Persephone by Hades, and her return to her mother Demeter. Hades and Persephone ride the chariot on the lower part of this vase which depicts the myth; Demeter is shown in the top right corner.

Today Greeks in America and Canada not only celebrate the modern day “Thesmophoria,” but also add Greek flavor to the wonderful tradition of Thanksgiving in the Americas.

Ask any Greek and they will give you a variation on how to cook the turkey, or you can get Nostimo’s Greek style Turkey, below.

TURKEY 140oz / 4kg

BUTTER 3oz / 100gr

ORANGE JUICE 2fl oz / 70ml

LEMON JUICE 2fl oz / 70ml

MANDARIN JUICE 2fl oz / 70ml

MUSTARD 1oz / 35gr

HONEY 1tbsp

ROSEMARY

SALT, PEPPER

CARROT 1

ONION 1

CELERY 1

For the stuffing

CHESTNUTS 7oz / 200gr

PINENUTS 2oz / 70gr

GROUND BEEF 10oz / 350gr

CHICKEN LEAVER 4oz / 150gr

ONION 1 large

RICE 3oz / 100gr

BUTTER 2oz / 70gr

CHICKEN BROTH 4fl oz / 150ml

BRANDY 2fl oz / 70ml

RAISINS 2oz / 50gr

BREAD CRUMBS 2oz / 50gr

ROSEMARY, SALT & PEPPER

Procedure

For the stuffing

  • Place a deep pan over high heat and cook the ground beef, and chicken leaver until they get a nice brown color.
  • Add the onion and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes.
  • Add the chestnuts, pine nuts, raisins, rice and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Pure the brandy and wait for the alcohol to evaporate. Mix in the butter and stir.
  • Add the chicken broth, rosemary, salt and pepper and remove from heat.

For the turkey

  • Melt 3oz butter in a saucepan, and mix in the orange juice, tangerine juice, lemon juice, mustard and honey. Rub the turkey inside and out with the mixture, reserving some for basting. Season turkey with salt and pepper.
  • In a roasting pan place some onions, carrots and celery at the bottom and place the turkey on top of them. Stuff all turkey cavities with the mixture.
  • Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven at 370 F (170 C) for two hours then uncover the turkey and continue cooking for one more hour. Increase temperature at 392F (200 C) for the last hour.
  • Serve and enjoy.