Thanksgiving Turkeys Are Pardoned

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. greets two Thanksgiving turkeys at the White House. 

“My fellow Americans, please welcome the 2022 National Thanksgiving Turkeys, Chocolate and Chip,” said President Joseph R. Biden. The president was addressing a crowd at the White House on November 21, where he officially pardoned the two turkeys.

When President Biden pardoned the turkeys, he cited an amusing reason. They deserve to be spared, he told the crowd, “because of their temperament and commitment to be productive members of society.”

After the ceremony, Chocolate and Chip were to be sent to North Carolina State University in Raleigh, to live in retirement. The school, Biden said, “is one of the nation’s great basketball schools and research universities.”

Although the annual turkey pardoning is a fun tradition, Biden reminded Americans that “the Thanksgiving tradition is all about being grateful for what we have.”

After his speech, Biden greeted the many guests at the White House. Since I was nearby, I wanted to ask if the President could wish my Scholastic readers a Happy Thanksgiving. But the Press Secretary said that it would upset the adult press if all of them didn’t get the same opportunity. 


Skye at the White House for the pardoning of turkeys Chocolate and Chip 


The first turkey pardoning at the White House dates back to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln was President. He was given a turkey, which he decided to spare.

By 1870, a poultry farmer from Rhode Island named Horace Vose was providing the White House with turkeys. When the First Families were given the turkeys, some decided to pardon them. By 1914, any American could give a turkey to the President.

Although the turkey pardoning began with President Lincoln, many people credit President Harry S. Truman for starting the modern tradition in 1947. The turkeys he pardoned were gifts from the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan became the first leader to hold public ceremonies for pardoning the turkeys he received. He also made it a practice to send pardoned turkeys to turkey farms. Before the Reagan Administration, pardoned turkeys were often sent to zoos. 

The pardoning ceremony became a formal event in 1989, when President George H. W. Bush was in the White House. 


Top photo courtesy of the White House; bottom photo courtesy of the author