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Obama Pardons Thanksgiving Turkeys

U.S. President Barack Obama (R) pardons the 2011 Thanksgiving Turkey, Liberty, alongside his daughters Sasha (2nd L) and Malia, on the North Portico of the White House, November 23, 2011

President Barack Obama has carried out one of the more unusual duties of the presidency, the annual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey.

Just a day before American's celebrate the Thanksgiving Day holiday, Mr. Obama, with his daughters Malia and Sasha, stepped out of the White House and granted a reprieve to two turkeys.

The president smiled and raised his hand above one bird named Liberty, which watched silently as the president continued the tradition.

“You are hereby pardoned,” he said sparking laughter from those in attendance.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday set aside to express gratitude for life’s blessings. Many Americans spend the day with family and friends, eating a meal that often consists of roast turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, among other foods.

“Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American," said President Obama. "It is a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company. But it is also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey.”

The modern Thanksgiving tradition in the United States is generally acknowledged to date back to 1621, when British colonists known as pilgrims were believed to have shared a bountiful feast with Native Americans in what is now the northeastern state of Massachusetts.

Historians say the date and events are based partly on fact and partly on stories that have grown over the centuries. It is not known whether turkey was served.

During the Civil War, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed an official day of thanksgiving. And in 1939, President Franklin Roosevelt set Thanksgiving Day for the fourth Thursday in November.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 45 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving.

For decades, an association of turkey growers has presented U.S. presidents with Thanksgiving turkeys. Many presidents accepted the birds for use in their holiday dinner.

It is not clear how the lighthearted tradition of the presidential turkey pardon started. One story claims that Abraham Lincoln pardoned his son’s pet turkey. But the first so-called "official" presidential pardon came in 1989, when George H.W. Bush spared a bird from the dinner table.

Liberty and another turkey named Peace are expected to live out their days outside Washington at Mount Vernon, the home and farm of the first U.S. president, George Washington.

Mr. Obama and his wife and daughters were later delivering less-fortunate turkeys to a food bank serving the hungry in the Washington area.