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The Ancient Greek Roots of Thanksgiving

ancient greek thanksgiving
Ancient Greek festivals for the cult of Demeter serve as ancient Greek predecessors of Thanksgiving. Credit: Public Domain

Thanksgiving Day is a time to give thanks every year for what we have and for a bountiful harvest. 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 with the Pilgrims thanking God and the Native Americans for the gifts they received from them, it is now a holiday for the secular as well in North America. It is seen as a day set aside simply for expressing gratitude.

In Canada, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October. In the United States, it falls on the fourth Thursday of November.

Ancient Greek predecessor to Thanksgiving

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 found yet again, an elated Demeter gave the gift of agriculture to mankind.

The Greeks believed that the earth provided the bounty that it did because of her, so honoring her with offerings and ceremonies would promise a new harvest each year. The holiday dedicated to Demeter was called “Thesmophoria.” Demeter was also called Thesmophoros because she gave certain laws, or ‘thesmoi’ in ancient Greek, to mankind.

The festival of Thesmophoria was held in the fall during a month known as Pyanopsion. The ancient Greek festival 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 often add Greek flavor to the wonderful tradition of Thanksgiving in North America.

ancient greek thanksgiving
Greek turkey. Credit: Nostimo/Greek Reporter

Greek Turkey Recipe

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

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






For the all-important stuffing”

CHESTNUTS 7oz / 200gr

PINENUTS 2oz / 70gr

GROUND BEEF 10oz / 350gr

CHICKEN LIVER 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



For the stuffing:

  • Place a deep pan over high heat and cook the ground beef, and chicken liver until they are a nice brown color.
  • Add the onion and continue sautéing for another 5 minutes.
  • Add the chestnuts, pine nuts, raisins, and rice and cook for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the brandy and wait for the alcohol to evaporate a few moments; then 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 the 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 to 390F (200 C) for the last hour for browning.
  • Serve, and enjoy your Thanksgiving!


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