With Thanksgiving just a few days away, Congress is in recess and President Biden is wrapping up some official Oval Office business: pardoning a turkey and his “wingman,” sparing the lucky birds from the White House Thanksgiving table.
The turkeys, named Chocolate and Chip, were pardoned in a formal ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.
“The votes are in, they've been counted and verified. There's no ballot stuffing, there's no foul play. The only red wave this season is going to be a German shepherd, Commander, who knocks over the cranberry sauce on our table," Biden quipped, referring to the midterm election results.
The event marked the 75th year of the White House tradition of the National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation. Chocolate was officially named the National Thanksgiving Turkey, while Chip was named as the alternate.
Following their trip to Washington, D.C., which included a stay at the nearby Willard Hotel, the turkeys will be transported to Raleigh, N.C., and placed in the care of North Carolina State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS).
“We’ve prepared a first-class retirement home for our fine-feathered friends to live out their days in fame and comfort,” said Peter Ferket, interim head of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science in CALS, in a press release from the school.
The broad-breasted white turkeys, weighing in at 46 and 47 pounds, respectively, were raised by National Turkey Federation chairman Ronnie Parker at Circle S Ranch in Monroe, N.C. Chocolate's and Chips' plans include earning an honorary poultry science degree from N.C. State University. The Tar Heel state ranks first in the nation for poultry production and second for turkey production.
"We can't forget the reason for Thanksgiving in the first place," Biden said at the event. "That's what the Thanksgiving tradition is all about, being grateful for what we have," Biden said as he reflected on being grateful for the medical community and COVID-19 vaccines to enable Americans to gather safely this year.
How did this festive tradition start between fowl and the White House, anyway?
For starters, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to show clemency to a turkey when he instructed the bird that was given to the White House to be spared after his son had grown fond of it.
While a turkey-pardoning tradition didn’t quite stick after Lincoln, a steady parade of poultry came to the White House as gifts and grew to be a national symbol of good cheer.
President Harry Truman is often credited with starting the turkey pardoning tradition, but in 1947 he was actually the first president to receive a turkey from the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation, thus beginning the official turkey presentation from the poultry industry. Any indications of a turkey pardon were quite the contrary, however, when Truman said the two turkeys he accepted in December 1948 would “come in handy” for Christmas dinner.
In 1963, President John F. Kennedy publicly spared a turkey from the White House dinner table and said, “Let’s keep him going,” while the Washington Post used words like “pardon” and “reprieve” in an article to describe the event.
President George H.W. Bush was really the one who formalized the custom in 1989. With animal rights activists picketing nearby, he said of the turkey, "He will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy — he's granted a presidential pardon as of right now — and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."
Ever since then, our nation’s capital has rolled out the red carpet with pomp and circumstance for these fine feathered friends to be spared.