Civil War origins, turkey-less first meal: 7 interesting facts about Thanksgiving

Pardoning the turkey

U.S. President Barack Obama pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey during the 68th annual presentation of the turkey in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington November 25, 2015. |

One of the more lighthearted yet highly publicized traditions that has emerged for Thanksgiving in recent decades has been the presidential pardoning of a turkey at the White House.

The origins of the tradition are uncertain, according to Betty C. Monkman of the White House Historical Association, with some claiming that President Abraham Lincoln began the tradition, while others insist it was President Harry S. Truman.

It wasn't until the 1980s under President Ronald Reagan that the tradition, which had been sporadic at best, became a consistently observed Thanksgiving tradition.

“After 1981, the practice of sending the presentation turkey to a farm became the norm under President Ronald Reagan. The turkey ceremony also became a source of satire and humor for reporters,” wrote Monkman.

“The formalities of pardoning a turkey gelled by 1989, when President George H. W. Bush, with animal rights activists picketing nearby, quipped, ‘But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy — he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now — and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here.’”

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