As I began to research your question, the first reference I came
across was from a speech given by President Clinton in Kosovo on the
day before Thanksgiving, 1999.
THE PRESIDENT: You all know I have an important job, because I'm your
Commander-In-Chief, right? (Applause.) Well, tomorrow, because I'm
also the President and I have broad executive authority, I get home at
10:00 p.m. tonight, we're all dog-tired, but I've got to get up and go
to work tomorrow because I have to do something that every president
has been doing since the 1920s. I have to pardon the Thanksgiving
turkey. (Laughter.) And they bring me a big turkey and we let one go
so we can eat all the others. (Laughter.) And they put this turkey in
a petting zoo for children to see in the Washington area.
Remarks by The President to the Troops and Officers of
U.S. Task Force Falcon
Base Theatre/Fest Tent, Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo
November 23, 1999
Then, searching further, I came across conflicting information as
regards the historic beginnings of this tradition:
Each year, the President of the United States grants an official
pardon to a Thanksgiving turkey presented to the White House by the
National Turkey Federation. The tradition dates back to 1947, when
Harry Truman issued the first turkey pardon. It is said that he got
the idea from President Lincoln, who refused to kill a holiday turkey
after his son Tad became attached to the bird. The traditional
ceremony is held the day before Thanksgiving in the Rose Garden. (A
second bird is kept out of sight in case the first turkey cant go
on.) After being pardoned, the turkey is given to Kidwell Farm, a
petting zoo at Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia.
Dollars, Sense & You, November 2001
Newsletter of the Pennsylvania Credit Union League
So I decided that the best thing to do would be to get the straight
story, right from the horses mouth (or the turkeys beak, as it were)
and I next checked out the National Turkey Federation. As you might
imagine, they are just a wealth of turkey information. It seems that
our President Clinton spoke in error, giving the turkey pardon
tradition more history than it warrants.
Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation (NTF) has presented the
President of the United States with a live turkey and two dressed
turkeys in celebration of Thanksgiving. The annual presentation of the
National Thanksgiving Turkey to the President has become a traditional
holiday ritual in the nation's capital, signaling the unofficial
beginning of the holiday season and providing the President an
opportunity to reflect publicly on the meaning of the Thanksgiving
season. After the ceremony, the live bird retires to a historical farm
to live out the rest of its years.
National Turkey Federation
And herein lies the answer to your question-- it would seem that The
President gets to pardon his turkey and eat it too!
The National Turkey Federation website contains more turkey trivia
than you probably ever wanted to know, and presidents loom large in
the traditions. Thanksgiving as a national holiday was first decreed
by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. In 1939, the date was moved by
President Franklin Roosevelt to the last Thursday in November, the
date on which it is presently celebrated.
But, John, just in case you havent had your fill of turkey facts,
here are a few additional tidbits:
- In 2000, about 267 million turkeys were raised
- 92 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.
- The average Thanksgiving turkey weighs in at 15 pounds
- The mature turkey has an estimated 3,500 feathers (none of which are
- Domesticated turkeys cannot fly
- Turkeys have heart attacks. When the Air Force was conducting test
runs and breaking the sound barrier, fields of turkeys would drop dead
- Turkeys can drown if they look up when it is raining (clearly these
arent the most intelligent of birds)
Here are President Bushs most recent turkey remarks:
The White House: Briefing Room
President Pardons Thanksgiving Turkey
And in case you havent had quite enough turkey for one day:
Aristotles Thanksgiving on the Web
offers a Turkey Quiz.
So as you can see, John, turkeys and US Presidents have had a long and
glorious association, just not quite as long as President Clinton
imagines. And, although I tried, I didnt find any indication that
turkeys eat ants, just in case you were, perhaps, thinking that they
might be a solution to your problem:
How do I rid my apartment of ants?
"Thanksgiving turkey" gift president pardon
"National Turkey Federation" president
Clarification of Answer by
29 Jul 2002 06:28 PDT
Thanks once again for your nice words and those twinkly little stars.
We do, indeed, keep track of the questions on the board and those who
ask them. Much in the way that a smitten young thing will wait by the
phone to see if the guy calls, we wait by the glow of our computer
screens (growing ever more pasty) to see if our questioner will return
with some words of praise or a report of success. Its heady stuff.
We are purveyors of words and information, and unlike the painter who
gets to see how nice your house looks when hes done, or the picture
framer who beholds the look of delight on your face when you pick up
your order; we never get to see the end result of our labors. And so I
thank you for letting me know that you enjoyed my answer, and I am
particularly tickled to hear that your ant problem is under control. I
have also passed your message on to Seedy, but I suspect that he has
already seen it here for himself.
So ring us up again soon, John. We just love hearing from you.