Presidential Turkey Pardon

The first time I really heard anything about Presidential turkey pardoning I was in 9th grade and watching The West Wing. There is a fabulous episode somewhere in season two where CJ- who is the white house press secretary- has to choose which of two turkeys will be receiving a presidential pardon. The episode is hysterical and surprisingly- or I suppose not surprisingly to us West Wing devotees- emotional. The idea of a president pardoning a turkey seemed so ludicrous I assumed that someone had made it up for television.

But it wasn’t. It’s a real thing that our presidents really do.
FDR carves a turkey as Eleanor Roosevelt looks on

The first president to officially pardon a turkey was George H.W. Bush in 1989. He sent a turkey to a park that was ironically and amusingly named “Frying Pan Park” over in Virginia, which is a thing I read about a week ago and have been laughing at since.

Though GW was the first president to officially pardon a turkey, in 1963 President Kennedy sent the yearly gift from the National Turkey Federation (which is a real thing that exists in real life!) back to the farm where it came from, saying “We’ll just let this one grow.”

Sometime around Nixon’s presidency is when this become a thing. The turkeys were received by the president, in an often very funny photo opportunity and then sent off to a petting zoo near DC.

Originally, the best turkey was the one the president would eat. Since 1947 the National Turkey Federation has been supplying the official bird, often one incredibly large, that the president would enjoy with his family.

Bill Clinton pardons a turkey and makes me laugh
really really hard
Nowadays the turkeys are granted an official government pardon. And if you don’t think that’s hysterical, you are simply wrong.  In 2009 when Obama was pardoning the official White House turkey, aptly named Courage, he said “Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker – Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate."

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get the tradition of turkey pardoning. I think it’s silly, and I don’t quite understand why we do it. But I do find it really, really funny. All it takes is a quick google search to find a beavy of Presidents looking vaguely uncomfortable while standing near turkeys. Which is a category of images that I never knew I wanted, but am now so happy is in my life.

It seems silly, but sometimes we need a little silly, right? We need something a little weird and fun, that exists just to be weird and fun. The turkey pardon might not make much sense, but it makes me happy- and sometimes that’s more than I could hope for.  

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