Every year in late November there is one constant around the White House. The president will stand in front of a live turkey and “pardon” it, ensuring that the bird will not be eaten as part of the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
In years past, President Obama has stood with his daughters, Malia and Sasha, and made a lighthearted speech about the turkey the day before Thanksgiving, the U.S. holiday when Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate and give thanks. Then the president officially spared the bird, adding a personal flourish of hand gestures to complete the pardon.
Obama’s final turkey pardon is set for November 23, when the president will spare this year’s birds, named “Tater” and “Tot.”
— White House Archived (@ObamaWhiteHouse) November 22, 2016
This humorous video documents Obama’s turkey pardons over the years.
There is some debate over when the tradition first began, but the White House Historical Association said President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey launched the pardoning ceremony. President John Kennedy said “let’s keep him going” in 1963 as he stood next to a turkey just steps from the Oval Office. Future presidents continued the tradition, holding media events in the White House Rose Garden to talk a bit about the turkeys and the upcoming holiday before granting the presidential pardon.
President Obama has joked about the annual event, noting in 2015 that “some folks think this tradition is a little silly. I do not disagree.”
“But I do enjoy this chance to wish America a happy Thanksgiving,” he said.