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There’s Nothing The President Likes More Than Pardoning Turkeys

Guess what time it is, folks? It’s time for all you turkey farmers to cross your drumsticks in the hope your birds wind up on the chopping block for this year’s Thanksgiving Presidential Turkey Pardon.

Who doesn’t love watching the moment where the Leader of the Free World decides whether a couple of fat, feathered butterballs live to see another day? We all know nothing screams “American tradition” more than commuting a death sentence, right?

The annual presidential turkey pardoning takes place a few days before Thanksgiving, in the White House Rose Garden. The tradition started about 70 years ago, but Americans have been sending turkeys to the White House a lot longer than that. And we don’t just mean the one that arrives every four years via the Electoral College.

Back in the 1870s, a dude named Horace Vose started gifting yearly turkeys to the President. The National Turkey Federation took over turkey delivery duties in 1946, when they presented President Truman with a massive 42-pound bird. However, Harry S. decided he’d rather eat his gift than let it live. 

The first presidential turkey pardon didn’t actually occur until President Kennedy decided to spare his gobbler in 1963. If only Lee Harvey Oswald had made the same choice. Too soon?

We were still a few decades away from the corny but lovable White House turkey ceremony that we have today. That tradition started with President George H.W. Bush, who some would also describe as corny but lovable (and perhaps guilty of war crimes).

But what most people don’t know is that it isn’t just any old turkey that’s selected for presidential pardon prestige. These turkeys are hand-picked, and specially conditioned for the unique challenges that come with the gig.

White House-bound turkeys have to distinguish themselves in appearance, personality, and their ability to handle a stimulating environment. Unlike our current president, who doesn’t even have to distinguish himself by spelling “hamburgers” correctly. 

Potential presidential turkeys lead a pretty plush life. They’re housed in special sheds with lots of indoor and outdoor space. They get AC in the summer, and a cozy heater in the colder months. They get the best feed, and extra vitamins to encourage beautiful feather growth. Some breeders even use essential oils to keep them healthy and happy. 

No word on whether Gwyneth Paltrow plans to sell these presidential turkey oils on Goop yet. But a girl can dream. Call me, Gwyn.

Looking the part isn’t the only important thing for presidential turkeys. They have to handle the stresses of their big day. They need to tolerate a lot of noise. They have to handle a gaggle of White House photographers snapping their pictures. And they have to be okay with Secret Service dogs sniffing them to make sure no one has stuffed a bomb up their butterbutt.

Presidents like the annual tradition because it gives them a chance to be playful with the crowd and crack a few jokes. However, no amount of conditioning can prepare a turkey for a president’s inevitably poor attempts at pun humor. We see you, President Barack “That’s worth gobbling about!” Obama. 

And of course, there was that one awkward year when President Reagan decided to give his turkey an impromptu colonoscopy.

The turkeys live a pretty good life after they’ve received their official presidential pardon. Some serve as grand marshals in the annual Thanksgiving parade at Walt Disney World. Some take a tour of George Washington’s Virginia estate, Mount Vernon. 

And some just hang out with their turkey kin and taunt their dinner plate-bound feathered friends. Because nothing says “holiday tradition” more than gloating about your accomplishments in front of your family.

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