Biden Pardoning Thanksgiving Turkeys on 81st Birthday

Liberty and Bell, the two turkeys, are set for their presidential reprieves as part of a beloved Thanksgiving tradition.

Scheduled to arrive at the White House on Monday, these turkeys are participating in the yearly ritual where the president saves them from being part of a Thanksgiving feast.

Steve Lykken, the head of the National Turkey Federation and president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, shared his enthusiasm about this tradition with The Associated Press, noting it as a delightful start to the festive season.

This year, the turkey pardoning ceremony is taking place on the South Lawn, moving from its usual Rose Garden location. The day was notably busy, with President Joe Biden celebrating his 81st birthday. First lady Jill Biden also had a busy schedule, accepting an 18.5-foot Fraser fir from Fleetwood, North Carolina, as the official White House Christmas tree.

On Sunday, Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell at the Willard Intercontinental, a prestigious hotel near the White House. The turkeys arrived at the hotel in style on Saturday, traveling in a black Cadillac Escalade from Minnesota.

Lykken described how the turkeys, each weighing about 42 pounds and roughly 20 weeks old, were raised with care, having constant access to food and water. At the Willard’s Crystal Room, the turkeys were seen walking on protective plastic sheeting as children in the audience, including Jennie-O employees and guests, excitedly interacted with them.

The turkeys, part of the “presidential flock” from Willmar, Minnesota, were accustomed to various music and sounds in preparation for their big day at the White House. Lykken humorously mentioned that Liberty and Bell are fans of Taylor Swift and Prince, showing their readiness for the spotlight.

The tradition of presenting a National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president began in 1947 under President Harry Truman. Initially, these turkeys were intended for the first family’s holiday meal, but by the late 1980s, the tradition had shifted to pardoning the turkeys, giving them a new lease on life away from the Thanksgiving dinner table.

President George H.W. Bush, in 1989, humorously assured a turkey of its safety from being dinner, marking the beginning of the formal pardoning tradition. This year, after President Biden pardons Liberty and Bell, they will return to Minnesota to be cared for at the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.

Lykken joked about the turkeys possibly enjoying university life, including attending hockey games and spending time with the university mascot, Goldy the gopher.

With over 200 million turkeys consumed on Thanksgiving, Lykken mentioned that President Biden would be celebrating the holiday with his family in Nantucket, Massachusetts, as part of a longstanding tradition. The president and the first lady also served an early Thanksgiving meal to service members and their families at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia.

Markus Platzer, general manager of the Willard, expressed pride in the hotel’s role in introducing the turkeys, calling it the year’s highlight. He reflected on the positive impact of such an event amidst global challenges, noting its ability to bring joy to people, even if just for a moment.