Celebrating Thanksgiving in Greece? American Thanksgiving is typically held on the fourth Thursday of November, which this year is November 27.
And if you don’t feel like cooking, there are dinners being organized by American-affiliated groups, schools and hotels.
*Article last updated November 26, 2014. However, answers in ‘Comments’ reflect whatever was true at the time.
Americans, Canadians and Greek-Americans/Canadians seeking to keep the tradition alive, and anyone who wants to join in, have five options:
1. Exit Greece: Many Americans leave during this period from Thanksgiving to after Christmas, especially when they have relatives still living in the United States. It’s the only way to have a proper, authentic Thanksgiving, should purity, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, bickering, tons of football and Black Friday sales be important to you.
2. Get invited to a dinner at an American school in Greece: Students and faculty have the option to invite a limited number of guests should the school, university or college be putting on a Thanksgiving dinner. Be aware that the price of a meal ticket can be steep for small portions and the food may not be prepared in the way you’re accustomed — dry turkey, runny mashed potatoes, no gravy, no pumpkin pie…and worst of all, no leftovers!
- Deree, American College of Greece held Thanksgiving dinner on November 26 from 20:00-23:00 in the Student Lounge. By ticket only. — Deree Events Calendar
- ACS Athens: No dinner scheduled for 2014, only the PTO Turkey Bowl on November 22, but the annual Holiday Bazaar takes place on December 5. There’s a bake sale and barbecue with hot dogs and burgers, and proceeds normally go to Toys for Tots.
3. Try a hotel catering to American guests: Some hotels in major cities such as Athens and Thessaloniki offer Thanksgiving dinner at a price, though in 2012 they skipped the holiday and went straight to Christmas. I cannot vouch for quality, as I have no reason to pay for dinner elsewhere when I make my own.
- Athens Hilton is offering a Thanksgiving buffet for lunch and dinner in its Byzantino restaurant for 43.50 euros a person. Call (210) 728-1400.
- The Athens Ledra
Marriottusually serves Thanksgiving dinner in its Zephyros Restaurant, but no announcement has been made after a change of ownership. In 2013, the cost was €43 for adults and €18 for children aged 12 and under; reservations required.
- Grand Hotel Bretagne sometimes offers a four-course Thanksgiving dinner at GB Corner (which is currently not in operation). In 2014, Thanksgiving dinner was only mentioned as part of a room/dinner package with no further details.
4. Pay to attend an American-affiliated event: American organizations hold gatherings before and after Thanksgiving, and the price is per person or per table. Everyone speaks English, so no worries if you don’t speak Greek.
- Democrats Abroad held the Thanksgiving 2014 dinner on November 23 at
Ep’avli (DA website) orRoloi (Facebook) , depending on what source you believe. You must be an American citizen to purchase tickets, though guests can be any nationality.
- Republicans Abroad normally hold their dinner on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, but I could find no details for the last two years.
- The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce and International Propeller Club of Piraeus arranged cocktails and Thanksgiving dinner at the Athens Ledra Hotel Grand Ballroom in Athens on Monday, November 24 at 20:30. Tickets were 75 euros per person.
- AHEPA Hellas‘ Daughters of Penelope typically hold their annual charity luncheon after Thanksgiving. No details for 2013 or 2014. In 2011, it was at the Ledra Marriott of Athens. Tickets €40/person, with proceeds going to the Deaf and Mute School of Greece. Contact info was (210) 894-1198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
*If you have or know of an event to add, please leave a comment with relevant details or a link.
5. Cook it yourself from scratch: This is what I and many friends do. Nearly everything can be found in Greece, and there’s no need to import anything unless you don’t know how, or are too lazy, to cook from scratch. And some good news — cooks burn calories while preparing the meal.
Corn — Καλαμπόκι/kalampoki is the easiest thing on the table. Normally I buy fresh frozen kernels because cobs are expensive (3 cobs for 2 euros) or in limited supply whenever I go to the store, and everyone complains about having to floss afterward. The laiki is a bit cheaper at 0.50 euro/cob, and sometimes you can bargain.
Cranberry sauce — There are stores selling canned cranberry sauce without need for a specialty store or paying exorbitant prices. I got an S&W brand can from the local (not Mega) AB Vassilopoulos in my small neighborhood for just over a euro. I’ve also paid 2.39 euros and had a choice between plain cranberry sauce and cranberry sauce with whole berries from AB; or cranberry in a jar from Lidl for 1 euro (but this was in August). As of April 2014, Lidl also sells dried cranberries in a pouch for 1.99 euros for 200 g, which is significantly lower than the 26.94/kilo price of dried fruit and nut sellers. I’ve never seen fresh or frozen cranberries for sale, but see Katerina in ‘Comments’ for a possible supplier in the center of Athens.
*I often buy an extra can of cranberry at Christmas for Thanksgiving the next year because stores don’t always have them available at the right time.
Stuffing — Got leftover bread? Perfect. Cut it up or shred by hand for a rustic look, dry it out (naturally or in the oven on low heat), moisten it with broth and combine it with fresh parsley, mushrooms, chestnuts, celery, currants or whatever else you normally have. You can also shortcut by using dried rusks, sold cheaply at any grocery store; or you can bake cornbread and treat it the same way as regular bread. No need to import that expensive and “nasty box of Stove Top” from abroad. (Right, C? )
Mashed potatoes — If you’re going to have mashed potatoes, do it right with fresh potatoes, maybe even leave a bit of skin on them for texture like I do. There’s no need to buy a box of πουρές/poures from the store. Yuck.
Gravy — I have packets of turkey, brown and mushroom gravy that I purchase in the States or have brought/sent to me. Why? Because pan dripping are never enough to accommodate the amount of gravy I need, and I don’t use giblets. There’s a good Turkey Gravy Recipe using wings that you can make ahead.
Sweet potatoes — North Americans erroneously call these yams because slaves used the word ‘nyami’ for sweet potato, and it stuck. But these orange-fleshed gems are indeed sweet potatoes. White sweet potatoes with light red skin are common; orange-fleshed ones with magenta skin are not, so you may want canned ones. If you make the kind of yam pie with marshmallows on top, the only marshmallows I’ve seen are from Germany or Sweden at the price-gouging store, and they’re not the same. I have Jet-puffed from America or minis from Waitrose UK on standby for S’mores, fudge, etc.
Pumpkin pie — This dessert disappears faster than I can make it, which is why I make two every year. I’ve never seen Libby’s canned pumpkin, but it’s because I stopped looking after the first two years (Reader ‘Tauros’ confirms it’s available at price-gouging markets, see ‘Comments’). It’s tastier and healthier to cook from scratch with a real pumpkin. I start the night before by hacking it in half, gutting it, then turning it cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet and baking until it collapses a bit. Then all I do is scoop out the pulp and mash or put through a ricer — no peeling, no boiling, and baking enhances the flavor — combine it with the spices and let everything marinate overnight. You can also get a cut pumpkin at the laiki or grocery store, if you prefer not to buy a whole one. Just ask.
Pie crust is from scratch, either graham crackers I had imported or make myself or regular flaky crust. I’ve never seen a pre-made frozen pie crust in Greece, and a homemade one tastes better and is not difficult or scary to make. Warming the pie filling in a double boiler before pouring it into the partially baked pie shell prevents the crust from getting as soggy and speeds baking time. The recipe I use is “Pumpkin Pie” by the King Arthur Flour Company with the optional pepper, which must be freshly ground.
On Thanksgiving, there are no keftedes, tzatziki, feta, horiatiki or “Greek-inspired” dishes on the table. Why? Everyone can put aside their personal agenda and respect my traditions for one meal a year. After all, I never bring tacos, tortellini or fried chicken to Greek Easter, and I would never insist they be added.
Another American Thanksgiving tradition is football, whether people actually watch or fall asleep in front of the TV before halftime. See, “Watch NFL football outside the USA” to find out how you can watch the game live in Greece.
Greeks don’t celebrate Thanksgiving and believe that turkey or γαλοπούλα/galopoula is only for Christmas, so some of what Americans and Canadians typically eat for Thanksgiving gets transferred to December 25. But my point is, sometimes a fresh whole one is difficult or impossible to find in October or November before Thanksgiving.
Fresh: If you find a fresh one at the grocery store or butcher, it might be quite expensive. How much? While Texans are whining about spending $46.52 on dinner for 10 — with a 16-pound turkey, fresh cranberries, pecan pie and all the fixings — the biggest and only fresh six-kilo (12.1 lbs.) bird I found for sale in 2009 was 57 euros ($86), which is €9.50/kilo ($14.25/2.2 lbs). In 2010 and 2011, they were €9.44/kilo. Turkey is supposed to be a native bird to Greece, but it doesn’t mean it’s common or inexpensive.
Parts are a bit less expensive at €3.60/kilo for legs/thighs and €8.50/kilo for boneless breast meat. Price fluctuates daily and varies according to store/butcher.
Frozen: If you don’t mind frozen, you can find imported turkey at locations nearly everywhere in Greece — Lidl, Marinopoulos, AB Vassilopoulos, Sklavenitis, Carrefour — whether it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. Should the store be sold out, ask when they expect their next delivery and show up. A friend in northern Greece has a large freezer and thought in advance to get a whole frozen turkey before the holiday season to take advantage of lower prices. In 2011, I found turkeys from France and Brazil for €3.19/kilo and €3.22/kilo, respectively. In 2012, a frozen turkey weighing 3.8 kilos at €3.34/kilo will cost you €12.69. That same turkey now costs 16.50 euros in 2013.
Organic: Should you want a local farm-raised bird and are fine with paying the price, the local butcher can take a pre-order to ensure you get what you want, when you want it (most of the time). Or you can pick up an organic turkey from the American Farm School in Thessaloniki for a limited time each year. They have a self-service store on campus in Thessaloniki and typically distribute them to select locations around Greece (AB Vasilopoulos, butchers) during the week of American Thanksgiving and two weeks before Christmas. Unfortunately in 2011, fresh turkeys never made it to AB markets in time for Thanksgiving; only local butchers had them available at the very last minute or after Thanksgiving was over. For more information, see “Farm Fresh Products – American Farm School in Thessaloniki.”
And if you don’t find a fresh or frozen whole turkey for any price, a nice boneless turkey roast and some turkey legs make a nice meal and can be ready in a fraction of the time, without much prep.
“Pilgrims and pumpkins, Mayflower and myths”
“Thanksgiving” – Greek-American family in northern Greece
“Countdown to ‘the thing’”
“New Year’s in Greece: The meaning of customs and traditions”
Looking for a turkey for Christmas in Greece? You should be able to find one with no problem, though price varies widely and availability depends on timing.