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Why Do Presidents Pardon Turkeys?

Today, President Obama exercises the most robust of presidential powers and officially pardons two lucky turkeys. These gobblers spend the remainder of their days at Morven Park farm in Virginia, rather than as the star of the Obama family’s Thanksgiving feast.

While this Presidential tradition can be traced back to the days of Lincoln, George H.W. Bush made the first official turkey pardon in 1989.

Presidents used to receive turkeys from various groups all across the country, but today, the pardoned turkeys are presented by the National Turkey Federation (NTF).

Two turkeys are chosen and sent to Washington—while only one appears at the ceremony, both receive the pardon. This year’s birds have been chosen from a flock of 80 on a farm in Badger, Minnesota. NTF Chairman, John Burkel selects the turkeys based on their ability to handle all the cameras and excitement of the ceremony.

Following the traditional pardon at the White House, the turkeys spend the holiday season at Mt. Vernon—George Washington’s estate in Alexandria, Virginia, before taking permanent residence at Morven Park.

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