Light Wave

U.S. News

81-year-old Biden to pardon Thanksgiving turkeys, kick off holiday season at White House

By Jake Beardslee · November 20, 2023

In brief…

  • President Biden will pardon two Thanksgiving turkeys named Liberty and Bell during a White House ceremony.
  • The over 40-pound birds were raised in Minnesota and will live at the University of Minnesota after the pardon.
  • The annual turkey pardon began in 1947 during Truman's presidency.
  • Biden will also accept delivery of the official White House Christmas tree from North Carolina.
  • The president will then travel to Nantucket for the Thanksgiving holiday per family tradition.
President Biden will celebrate his 81st birthday by participating in the annual presidential turkey pardon ceremony and accepting the White House Christmas tree delivery before traveling to Nantucket for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Adam Schultz/Frank Schulenburg/Wikimedia

President Biden will celebrate his 81st birthday today by honoring a time-honored White House tradition - pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey. Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will pardon two turkeys named Liberty and Bell during a ceremony on the South Lawn. The turkeys, raised in Minnesota, will be spared from becoming someone’s Thanksgiving dinner and instead live out their days at the University of Minnesota.

This annual presidential pardon began in 1947 when the National Turkey Federation first presented a turkey to President Harry Truman. In those early years, the turkey was given as a holiday meal for the first family. But by the late 1980s the ceremony had evolved into a lighthearted event focused on sparing the birds.

“We think that’s a great way to kick off the holiday season and really, really a fun honor,” said Steve Lykken, National Turkey Federation chairman in an interview with The Associated Press.

The 20-week-old turkeys weighed about 42 pounds each when they were introduced Sunday at the luxury Willard Hotel near the White House. Liberty and Bell have been enjoying a suite at the hotel before their big debut.

“There are so many bad things going on globally that this is something where everybody, you know, brings a smile [to] the face of the people, at least for a few minutes,” said Markus Platzer, Willard’s general manager.

After the pardon, the Bidens will continue the holiday celebrations by accepting delivery of the official White House Christmas tree. The 18-and-a-half foot Fraser fir is from Fleetwood, North Carolina.

The White House festivities mark the unofficial start of the holiday season in Washington. But the president won’t be sticking around to decorate the tree. He’s headed to Nantucket with his family to continue their longstanding Thanksgiving tradition on the Massachusetts island.