To kill the fatted calf is to prepare a huge celebratory feast, especially to welcome someone. It means to have a big party with lots of food and drink.
The American Heritage Dictionary Of Idioms defines it as “to prepare for a joyful occasion or a warm welcome.” An example would be a long lost beloved relative coming home: “When Steve comes home from his deployment we are going to kill the fatted calf.
The expression is used in the Elton John song “Bennie & The Jets” in the first verse: //We’ll kill the fatted calf tonight so stick around.”
Meaning of Fatted
Fatted is an archaic past tense of fat used as a verb. It is similar to fattened. A fatted calf would be a calf that had been well-fed so that it is plump and prepared for the slaughter.
Origin of Idiom Kill the Fatted Calf
This expression derives from the New Testament of the Christian bible. It is found in one of the most famous parables of Jesus, Luke 15:11 to 32, the Prodigal Son. The story is one of forgiveness and repentance.
Summary of the Prodigal Son
A man had two sons. The younger son asked his father to give to him the portion of his father’s estate that fell to him. So the father gave him half of his worldly possessions.
In a few days, the younger son gathered up all these belongings, passed to him by his father, and traveled far away to a new country, where he reveled and lived carelessly, wasting all of the wealth his father had bestowed on him. Once all his out of money, a famine came to the land, and the young son was destitute.
To survive, he signed on with a citizen who sent him into the fields to feed pigs. He had nothing and no one helped him. He soon began to realize what he had done, saying to himself, “Even the hired servants of my father have enough food to eat, and her I am starving. I will go back to my father and repent to him. I will tell him I have sinned against heaven and that I am no longer worthy to be called his son and ask him to make me one of his hired servants.”
So the son did just that. But when he was coming home, his father saw him off in the distance and he ran to him and hugged and kissed him. The son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven in your sight and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
But, the father, overjoyed at the return of his son, said to his servants. “Bring forth the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring hither the fatted calf and kill it and let us eat and be merry. For this my son was dead and is alive again. He was lost and is found.” And they feasted and were merry.
The older brother, coming in from the fields, however, and hearing all the ruckus, asked a servant what was going on. When told, was not very happy about these developments. He refused to go in the house. His father came out and asked him to join the party. But the son was angry and said to his father, “For all these years I have served you and never transgressed your commandments at any time, yet you never gave me a calf to eat so that I could make merry with my friends. But, as soon as your son comes, he who has wasted all that you gave him living with harlots, you go a kill the fatted calf for him.”
The father replied “Son, you are always with me and all that I have is yours. It was good that we should make merry and be glad because your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost but is now found.”