On Monday, President Joe Biden will pardon two turkeys, Chocolate and Chip, raised near Monroe, North Carolina, as part of an annual ceremony that has survived two of the presidents who started the tradition.
The National Turkey Federation has taken ownership of the turkey pardon, designating a “presidential” flock each year, in what they likely see as a great PR stunt for the industry.
The turkeys themselves get some prime treatment — a night at the Willard Intercontinental luxury hotel before the event.
The two turkeys pardoned this year will live out their days at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
Though President Abraham Lincoln is sometimes credited with inventing this tradition in 1863, according to the White House Historical Association, its origins are more modern, dating back merely to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
But there is an older tradition of simply giving a turkey to the White House. Organizations from around the country used to send turkeys to the president as early as 1914, often having a bit of fun with it. “A Harding Girls Club in Chicago outfitted a turkey as a flying ace, complete with goggles,” in the early 1920s, according to former White House curator Betty Monkman.
The present-day version of the turkey pardon, with the White House Press Corps gathering before Thanksgiving to watch the president let turkeys live out their days instead of landing on the dinner table, began with Bush in 1989, who was quipping about animal welfare activists protesting nearby, “But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy.”
Love it or hate it, we’ve been stuck with the event ever since.