I beg your pardon? Thanksgiving turkeys receive reprieve

turkey“Turkey pardoning” is what the National Turkey Federation refers to when it presents the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey to the president of the United States.

According to the NTF, the turkey presentation at the White House signals the beginning of the national season of giving thanks and historically has represented agriculture’s plentiful harvest. This tradition has been observed since 1947, when then-President Harry Truman received a live turkey as a gift from the turkey federation.

The turkeys come from a different part of the country each year. This year’s birds come from California’s Foster Farms.

“This is a wonderful tradition that highlights the important role the turkey plays in the Thanksgiving holiday,” said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation. “And it is true: The turkeys are pardoned and do not end up on anyone’s Thanksgiving table.”

In 2012, the turkeys came from a Rockingham County farm. “It was really exciting for us in Virginia,” Bauhan said. That year he attended a turkey sendoff celebration in Rockingham and then went to the White House presentation.

The formal name for the ceremony is the Presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey. Only in recent years has it been referred to as the “turkey pardoning.” In 1989 at the end of the ceremony, then-President George H.W. Bush remarked that he was “pardoning” the turkey, beginning a custom followed by subsequent presidents.

Once pardoned, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and an alternate are sent to Morven Park in Leesburg, which is the historic estate of former Virginia Gov. Westmoreland Davis. Davis raised one of the largest flocks of prize turkeys on the East Coast on his 2-acre Turkey Hill Farm. The public can visit pardoned turkeys there.

In addition to the two live turkeys, the turkey federation presents two fully prepared turkeys, which are packaged for the president and his family to donate to a food bank in the Washington area.

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