The Ancient Catholic Origins of Thanksgiving

The Fatima Center wishes you a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.

An Autumn Festival

Have you ever wondered why it’s traditional to eat turkey at Thanksgiving?[1] It may surprise you to learn that its origins, like many other cultural customs, are found in Catholicism.

Most Americans know the story about the Puritan Pilgrims who came aboard the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth in 1620. They nearly starved to death but were helped by the Wampanoag tribe. The next fall they held a food-filled autumn fest celebrating their friendship and thanking God for their survival.

It was quite natural for the pilgrims to hold such a celebration,[2] as autumn harvest feasts had been celebrated in Europe since time immemorial. But have you ever wondered why a large fowl served as the centerpiece?

Although the protestant Puritans had tried to eliminate all Catholicism, they could not divest themselves of their deep Catholic cultural roots. Christendom’s autumn festival centered about the great feast of St. Martin’s Day on November 11. (Read about Martinmass by Matthew Plese). And this great saint provides the connection to the large fowl.

St. Martin and the Goose

St. Martin was living the life of a hermit in a secluded forest. People far and wide revered his wisdom and sanctity. Tours had a vacant episcopal see and its townsfolk wanted him as their next bishop. They knew the humble monk would never accept, so they lured him out of his monastery under pretext and forcibly carried him off to their town. Yet Martin was able to escape and fled, hiding in a country barn. The people could not find him and implored Divine Providence, “may God’s will be done.” As if in answer to these prayers, a goose began to honk incessantly. The din raised by the goose led the people straight to Martin’s hiding place. By popular acclaim. the local populace was then able to compel Martin to accept the bishopric.

St. Martin went on to become one of the greatest bishops and miracle workers in Church history.[3] He converted many pagans, influenced many customs, strengthened monasticism, raised people from the dead, and became one of France’s patron saints. But saints also have a sense of humor. Bishop Martin caught that honking goose and had him cooked and served for the town’s festival. From that day on, in honor of St. Martin, a cooked goose became the main course in Christendom’s autumn festival.

The Puritans may not have known the tradition of Martin’s goose, but the need to have a large fowl served at the meal lingered in their collective memory. The New England turkey was the most fitting alternative. (Eating a goose for St. Martin’s feast was then, and still is, a custom in Europe.) So now when you eat turkey at Thanksgiving, know this tradition comes from a great Catholic saint of the fourth century!

Catholic Culture

A good lesson to recall in these days of ‘wokeism’ and ‘cancel culture’ is that the enemies of the Church may reject devotion to the saints, but they can never eradicate their legacy.

The truth, beauty and goodness of Catholicism served as the foundation for the world’s greatest civilization: Christendom. Therefore, those who favor the diabolic revolution must necessarily attack culture and customs, favoring a forgetting and rejection of our past. In order to usher in a new order, the Revolution must always seek to destroy the old traditional order. Consequently, this is one of the foundational “errors of Russia” which Our Lady warned against at Fatima.

Our Lady’s Triumph

As Our Lady prophesied, mankind’s refusal to cease offending God and disobedience to Her Message, has opened the path for the errors of Russia to spread all over the world. This rejection of Catholic Tradition exists not only presently in our secular world, but regrettably even within the Church. We can effectively resist this evil by faithfully learning, living and sharing the Message of Fatima.

God wills to establish in the world devotion to His Mother’s Immaculate Heart. God may patiently wait, but His will shall be accomplished. In the end, mankind shall witness the glorious Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary and the world will be granted a period of peace. We already know the inevitable and eventual outcome. Filled with hope, and trusting in Our Lady, let us therefore do all we can to hasten it.

So as you enjoy all the customs of Thanksgiving (including eating turkey!) and you thank God for the many blessings He has bestowed upon you, your family, and our nation, let us also thank Our Lady for providing us with the only solution to the evils of our age.

Learn, Live and Share the Message of Fatima

Each person can remember the basics of how to personally live the Message of Fatima with the mnemonic device Roman Catholic S.O.S., or RCSOS:

RRosary. Pray five decades every day.

CConsecration. Consecrate yourself to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and pray for Russia’s proper Consecration.

SScapular. Always wear the Brown Scapular faithfully.

OOffer Prayer and Penance. The penance that Our Lord requests of each of us is simple: to keep God’s Law and fulfill the duty of our state in life. We must cease offending God and amend our life. And much prayer is needed for the conversion of sinners and for Church leaders.

SSaturday. Practice the First Saturday devotion every month. This includes a good confession, Holy Communion, five decades of the Rosary, a 15-minute meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary, and all four of these acts offered in reparation for the blasphemies and offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.


[1] Our term ‘[Holy] Eucharist’ comes from the Greek word eucaristia (εὐχαριστία), which means “giving thanks.” So for Catholics, the very word “Thanksgiving” should call to mind the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is first and foremost the Sacrifice of Christ, but also a heavenly banquet to which invites the faithful members of His Mystical Body. Moreover, make this link as we recall the four ends of Mass, or the four acts which man renders to God: adoration, thanksgiving, impetration (petition), and expiation.

[2] There are those who challenge the 1621 Massachusetts event as the “First Thanksgiving.”

In 1598, Juan de Oñate led an expedition of Spanish settlers across the vast Chihuahuan desert. They suffered greatly and some men and livestock died. By God’s grace, the group eventually reached the waters of the Rio Grande. Franciscan friars offered Holy Mass in thanksgiving. Then a festive celebration was held with the local Tiguas, who helped the Spanish catch fish and game. This took place about 25 miles downriver from what is now downtown El Paso, Texas.

In 1565, Catholic Spaniards landed at the site where they would subsequently establish the United States’ oldest city: St. Augustine, Florida. To celebrate their new homeland and thank God for a safe arrival, some 800 Spaniards celebrated a festive meal with the Timucuan natives. This celebration was also preceded by the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Thus, one can legitimately argue that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass lies at the origins of the first thanksgiving(s) offered by Europeans and Native Americans upon land that would eventually be part of the United States of America. (Nevertheless, the establishment of a civic holiday by Presidents Washington, Lincoln and FDR do seem more connected with the Protestant Pilgrims of Massachusetts than the Catholic Spaniards in Florida and Texas.)

[3] Read a lengthier article on the life and work of Saint Martin at the St. Vincent Ferrer Foundation website.