Obama continues Thanksgiving turkey pardon tradition

By James G. Robertson

The day was dark and dreary in Washington, D.C., as men in dark suits guarded the prisoner awaiting his fate. Bleachers were set up for the public to watch the scene unfold. Then a voice boomed over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”

The mood turned lighthearted as President Obama came out of the White House with his daughters, Sasha and Malia, and addressed the crowd gathered to watch him save “Courage,” a 45-pound (20 kilogram) turkey from Goldsboro, North Carolina, from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

“That’s a good lookin’ bird,” Obama said.

White House video

The National Turkey Federation provided the Obamas with the turkey, which the organization has done for Presidents since they gave Harry Truman a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947.


President Truman with his Thanksgiving turkey. Courtesy National Archives.

Truman reportedly ate his turkey. So did Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon B. Johnson. But President John F. Kennedy did not, despite a sign around his turkey’s neck attesting to the bird’s deliciousness, Obama said .

The National Turkey Federation’s tradition of giving turkeys to Presidents for dinner has become confused with the practice of pardoning them. While there are anecdotes of Presidents as far back as Abraham Lincoln pardoning turkeys, the official pardon actually began 20 years ago with President George H.W. Bush, and it has become a tradition for Presidents since then.

“Courage” will be Grand Marshal of the Thanksgiving parade in Disneyland, California, Obama said. If he is not able to fulfill his duties, a turkey named “Carolina” will fill in.

The Obamas will be donating two dressed turkeys to a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter. Described by President Obama as ”less fortunate brethren” of the pardoned bird, they will be among the millions of turkeys consumed by Americans observing the Thanksgiving holiday.  

The White House also produced a trailer previewing today’s turkey pardoning ceremony, which you can watch below:

Forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. He has 120,000 followers on social media. David Braun edits the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

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