President Obama Pardons Thanksgiving Turkeys for the Last Time
Take a look inside this Thanksgiving tradition at the White House.
By JENNIFER HANSLER and JORDYN PHELPS
November 23, 2016, 9:31 PM
• 6 min read
-- Two very lucky turkeys got to avoid the dinner table for a podium at the White House today, thanks to the annual presidential turkey pardon.
Today was President Obama's eighth and last turkey pardon. In a break from what has been tradition during the president's term, Obama's daughters Malia and Sasha did not attend after being embarrassed "with a cornucopia of dad jokes about turkeys" for seven years, President Obama said.
In his daughters' place were the president's nephews, Austin and Aaron Robinson, "who, unlike Malia and Sasha, have not yet been turned cynical by Washington," the president joked.
Though both turkeys -- "Tater" and "Tot" -- were pardoned, Tot won out as the official National Thanksgiving Turkey. As for Tater, Obama joked, "He's sort of like the vice turkey. We're working on getting him a pair of aviator glasses."
Here's everything you need to know about this year's featured fowl and the national Thanksgiving tradition.
The 2016 Birds
Both Tater and Tot are 18 weeks old, stand at a little over 2 feet tall, and weigh roughly 40 pounds. They were raised on a family farm in northwest Iowa and began their trek to Washington on Sunday.
Tater and Tot were housed at the Willard Hotel until their ceremony in the Rose Garden. Now that they have been officially pardoned, they will head to "Gobblers Rest" at Virginia Tech University to live out the rest of their days, according to a statement.
According to the turkeys' White House "biographies," Tater enjoys Meghan Trainor and "walks with a swagger," while Tot prefers Justin Timberlake and "walks with a relaxed saunter." The public was able to vote for which turkey should receive the official "presidential turkey designation."
The White House Historical Association notes that President Abraham Lincoln may have provided the inspiration for the pardon after he reportedly spared his son's turkey from becoming Christmas dinner in 1863.
President Harry Truman was believed for many years to be the first president to have pardoned a Thanksgiving turkey. Truman was indeed the first to be presented with a bird from the National Turkey Federation (NTF) in 1947. However, he may not have pardoned the birds at all. According to his presidential library, Truman "sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table."
President Kennedy is now thought to be the first to actually spare a turkey. He sent the 1963 bird back to the farm, according to the White House.
President George H.W. Bush became the first to formally issue a reprieve to the turkey, according to the White House, announcing that the bird has “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”
In 2009, President Obama set a new precedent for pardoning not one, but two turkeys. At the request of his daughters Sasha and Malia, Obama pardoned both "Courage" and "Carolina" that year. However, to this day, only one bird can be the "official" presidential turkey. Recent title-holding turkeys have been decided by popular vote on social media.
Each year, the NTF designates a state farm to raise a flock of presidential pardon contenders. According to the NTF's Presidential Turkey website, the winning birds are "chosen for physical appearance and temperament." They are also trained to "become accustomed to being lifted onto a table-height platform draped with a linen cloth."
Before heading to the nation's capital, the turkeys are often brought to local schools, where children suggest names for them. The names are announced by the White House in the days before the pardon.