Here's What You Need to Know About the Annual Turkey Pardon Tradition

Thanksgiving is pretty much the worst day of the year if you're a turkey. Poor gobblers. It's a bummer they're so undeniably delicious! But, every year, two lucky gobblers get to live in luxury, thanks to a long-standing White House tradition.

turkey pardon white house tradition
Photo: Photo: White House social media

Through the years, the thought of offing a bird for the Thanksgiving feast has tugged at the heartstrings of first families in the White House. As far back as 1863, Abraham Lincoln's youngest son, Tad, grew attached to his family's Christmas turkey. After enduring frantic sobs and pleas from his animal-fond son, the president decided the turkey-boy relationship was worth sustaining. He granted a reprieve to let Tad's pet turkey, Jack, see the light of another day.

The first public turkey pardon happened at the hands of John F. Kennedy, according to the White House Historical Association. He famously took a glance at what would have been his Thanksgiving dinner and said, "Let's keep him going." But, it wasn't until George W. Bush pardoned his turkey, and its alternate, that this act of mercy was made an official tradition.

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has gifted presidents fine-feathered birds for Thanksgiving Day. Now, they designate a farmer to raise the "Presidential Flock" every year and prepare A-list turkeys for potential pardon. The birds live life on a farm where they regularly interact with people and listen to music to get familiar with crowds and noise. Before the lucky winner is decided, each contender does their stance on a podium to see who best suits the honor.

Once the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its companion are chosen, they make the coveted trek to Washington, D.C., for their swanky pre-ceremony hotel stay. Some past visitors include Marshmallow and Yam, Cobbler and Gobbler, Popcorn and Caramel, Mac and Cheese, Abe and Honest, Tater and Tot, Drumstick and Wishbone, Peas and Carrots, Bread and Butter, and Corn and Cob.

So, where do these lucky pairs head instead of a hungry belly?

Usually, they go to a tranquil farm to live out the rest of their days. Some have even gone on to bigger things—like being grand marshals in Disneyland's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Last year's winners, Corn and Cob, are still happily residing at Iowa State University where they are in the care of veterinarians and animal science students.

After their short stint at the White House, President Joe Biden's pardoned turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, will settle down at Purdue University.

Being crowned the "National Thanksgiving Turkey" is truly an honor one never fully lives down—one might even say the "Nobel Peace Prize" of turkey culture. This heartwarming Thanksgiving tradition keeps Americans across the country with full hearts (and not-so-full bellies).

See More: 5 Creative and Healthy Ways to Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers

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