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Pardoning Turkeys

By Suri Zheng

Happy Thanksgiving, to those who celebrate it. A day to eat a Thanksgiving meal of stuffed turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, with cranberry sauce. Also a day of traditions, such as the Annual Presidential Turkey Pardon. Every year, the United States president will pardon two lucky turkeys from being someone’s Thanksgiving dish on the table. These turkeys get to go back to their home state, back to farms or research centers where they can live out the rest of their life. 

The tradition of annual turkey pardonings began in 1963, during John F. Kennedy’s presidential term. He was the first documented president to start the tradition officially, but many sources are saying otherwise. Some say the first turkey pardon was in 1863, a century before President Kennedy’s pardon. President Abraham Lincoln decided to spare a turkey from a holiday meal after his son grew attached to a turkey. Some say it was President Truman in 1948, often credited as the first to pardon a turkey. There are some misconceptions about the fact that the Truman Library never found evidence that Truman ever pardoned a turkey. In fact, in a speech in 1948, Truman told reporters that the turkey would “come in handy” after being given it as a gift for his Thanksgiving meal. No matter which president started it, it has now been a quirky tradition for the president to pardon one or two turkeys every year around Thanksgiving. 

Although a turkey or two is pardoned every year by the president to preserve this goofy tradition. Because of their weight, many of the turkeys can’t live long enough and die the following year.  

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