Turkey pardon: What is the Thanksgiving tradition and where do the birds go?

Chelsea Ritschel

As Americans prepare to sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts on November 22, one lucky turkey will be given another chance at life by President Trump.

Each Thanksgiving, an estimated 46m turkeys are killed for the holiday, however, at least one turkey is always granted clemency as part of the traditional presidential pardoning of the turkey.

Today, Donald Trump is expected to pardon turkeys Peas and Carrots, after pardoning Drumstick and Wishbone last year.

Last year’s turkeys went to live at Virginia Tech’s “Gobbler’s Rest” enclosure following the mercy.

What is the presidential pardoning of the turkey?

On or slightly before Thanksgiving Day, the president of the United States “pardons” a turkey, which is then sent to live at an animal sanctuary.

This year, the event will take place on November 20.

The event is a comical and highly photographed tradition, with each president putting their own twist on the custom.

Where did the tradition come from?

Although the exact origins of the turkey pardon are unclear, the tradition likely stems from the history of gifting turkeys to US presidents.

President Harry S Truman was one of the first presidents to receive a poultry gift - which later become a popular gift to receive at the White House.

Presidents and their families would often send these gifted turkeys to live on farms or zoos.

In 1963, President John F Kennedy received a Thanksgiving turkey from the Poultry and Egg National Board but decided to pardon the bird.

President Bush carried out the tradition (Getty)

Later presidents including Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan kept the tradition alive.

However, it wasn’t until 1989 that the presidential pardoning of a turkey became a formal event - when President George H W Bush told animal rights activists protesting outside the White House that the turkey would be granted a “Presidential pardon as of right now” and would be sent to “live out his days on a children’s farm.”

Following President Bush’s proclamation, the tradition has been held every year since.

Why is the pardoning a beloved American tradition?

Apart from saving the life of a turkey, Americans enjoy the humour that most presidents bring to the unique ceremony.

Obama pardons a turkey during his presidency (Getty)

In 2013, President Barack Obama joked that of all the “many awesome and solemn responsibilities” that come with the having the “most powerful position in the world,” pardoning a turkey is “not one of them.”

President Trump also made light of the tradition in 2017 when he joked that he had been informed by the White House that he could not overturn President Obama’s pardons.

“I have been informed that Tater and Tot’s pardons cannot under any circumstances be revoked,” he said. “So I’m not going to revoke them. Tater and Tot, you can rest easy.”

It is also a competition amongst the two turkeys, of who will be named the National Thanksgiving Turkey, with a poll deciding. However, both turkeys are pardoned.

Where do the birds go?

After they are pardoned, "the turkeys will make the journey to their new home at Virginia Tech’s “Gobblers Rest” exhibit in Blacksburg, Virginia," according to the White House.

At Gobbler’s Rest, students and veterinarians within Virginia Tech’s Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences care for the turkeys.

People can visit the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate at Gobbler's Rest and learn about the "university’s teaching, research and outreach programs in animal and poultry sciences and veterinary medicine."