WHITE HOUSE — Although millions of Americans will eat turkey on Thursday, November 22, as part of their Thanksgiving holiday feast, President Barack Obama has spared two special turkeys. President Obama took part on Wednesday in the lighthearted annual tradition of the presidential turkey pardon.
The president entered the Rose Garden in a jovial mood, comparing the reprieve he was about to give the turkeys with his own reelection earlier this month.
“They say that life is all about second chances. And this November, I could not agree more. So in the spirit of the season, I have one more gift to give, and it goes to a pair of turkeys named Cobbler and Gobbler," said President Obama.
The White House turkey pardon is the unofficial start of Thanksgiving celebrations. As Obama told guests and reporters, the holiday is dedicated to expressions of gratitude.
“Tomorrow, in the company of friends and loved ones, we will celebrate a uniquely American holiday. And it is a chance for us to spend time with the people we care about, and to give thanks for the blessings that we enjoy," said Obama.
The president reminded Americans to think of those who are less fortunate, including those affected by the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
“In the last few weeks, I had a chance to visit both New Jersey and New York. And while I have seen entire neighborhoods reduced to rubble and heartbreaking loss and devastation, I have yet to find a broken spirit," he said.
Also on the president’s agenda Wednesday was a trip to a local food bank, where he and his family delivered turkeys for those in need.
The main turkey being pardoned was named Cobbler, and the alternate, Gobbler. Both are 19-month-old, 18-kilogram turkeys. The names were chosen by children from Rockingham County, Virginia, where the turkeys were raised.
For the first time, the American public chose which of the two birds would be the National Thanksgiving Turkey through a vote on the White House Facebook page.
The “turkey pardon” tradition is said to have begun with President Abraham Lincoln. It is said he was presented with a turkey for Christmas in 1863. But his son developed a liking for the bird and the president decided to keep it.
Many presidents have been presented with Thanksgiving turkeys, but the annual custom of “pardoning” the bird was formalized by President George H. W. Bush in 1989.
The American Turkey Federation estimates that Americans ate 46 million turkeys last Thanksgiving. Despite slightly higher prices this year, turkey sales are up, according to John Anderson, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
“Prices for turkeys have been pretty good. They have been up a little bit, compared to a year ago. If you look at the availability of turkeys, we have actually had pretty good turkey production, some increase in turkey production, it looks like, this year. So the higher price, along with the higher production, suggests that demand for turkeys has been pretty good," said Anderson.
Cobbler and Gobbler will not be among the turkeys consumed this Thanksgiving. The night before their White House appearance, the birds stayed in a suite at Washington’s posh W Hotel. They will spend the rest of their lives in a custom-made enclosure on the farm at Mount Vernon, the Virginia estate of the first U.S. president, George Washington.