Feasts of thanks, parades, grand marshals and even flower-decorated floats— if you thought all of these were American creations, think again. The concept of “Thanksgiving” may be a very American thing to most people, but this is just one amazing “first” you can add to the list of Ancient Greek accomplishments– or inventions.
Seeking to give thanks to the gods for their freedom, following the victory against the Battle of Plateia during the Persian Wars in 479 BC, all of the Greek city states that were allied together to beat the Persians organized an annual gathering called Eleftheria (or freedom).
The Greeks celebrated on the 16th day of their month of Maemacterion (November on our modern calendar) and yes, their celebration included a giant feast, a parade with marching youth, wheeled carts covered with flowers and even a grand marshall of the parade.
Plutarch tells us that there was a great, city-wide feast that took place after an elaborate parade that involved trumpets, the sacrificial bull that would be cooked and eaten that day, all of the young men of the town and even chariots decorated with myrtle boughs and other ornamental plants.
There were even athletic competitions during the celebration, which was created out of the desire to thank the gods for the Greek victory over the Persians.
A general assembly of all the Greeks being called, Aristides proposed a decree that the deputies and religious representatives of the Greek states should assemble annually at Plataea, and every fifth year celebrate the Eleutheria or games of freedom. And that there should be a levy upon all Greece for the war against the barbarians of ten thousand spearmen, one thousand horse, and a hundred sail of ships; but the Plataeans to be exempt, and sacred to the service of the gods, offering sacrifice for the welfare of Greece.
These things being ratified, the Plataeans undertook the performance of annual sacrifice to such as were slain and buried in that place; which they still perform in the following manner.
On the sixteenth day of Maemacterion (which with the Boeotians is Alalcomenus) they make their procession, which, beginning by break of day, is led by a trumpeter sounding for onset; then follow certain chariots loaded with myrrh and garlands; and then a black bull; then come the young men of free birth carrying libations of wine and milk in large two-handed vessels, and jars of oil and precious ointments, none of servile condition being permitted to have any hand in this ministration, because the men died in defense of freedom; after all comes the chief magistrate of Plataea (for whom it is unlawful at other times either to touch iron or wear any other colored garment but white), at that time appareled in a purple robe; and, taking a water-pot out of the city record-office, he proceeds, bearing a sword in his hand, through the middle of the town to the sepulchers.
Then drawing water out of a spring, he washes and anoints the monuments, and sacrificing the bull upon a pile of wood, and making supplication to Jupiter and Mercury of the earth, invites those valiant men who perished in the defense of Greece to the banquet and the libations of blood. After this, mixing a bowl of wine, and pouring out for himself, he says, “I drink to those who lost their lives for the liberty of Greece.” These solemnities the Plataeans observe to this day.
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