It’s a treasured Thanksgiving tradition: watching the president of the United States ceremoniously “pardon” a live turkey (or two) marked for the first family’s Thanksgiving dinner table.
And President Joe Biden ceremoniously pardoned this year’s lucky gobblers, Peanut Butter and Jelly, in the White House Rose Garden on Friday — just hours after a jury found Kyle Rittenhouse not guilty in the fatal Kenosha shootings.
“It reminds us to have a little bit of fun, and to always be grateful,” Biden said.
Peanut Butter and Jelly, the “National Thanksgiving Turkey” and alternate, walk about in their suite at the Willard Hotel. They were pardoned by President Joe Biden.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
“In all seriousness, it’s important to continue traditions like this to remind us how from darkness there’s light and hope and progress, and that’s what this year’s Thanksgiving in my view represents,” Biden continued.
He also sprinkled in plenty of turkey-related puns, such as suggesting the two toms were selected due to their temperament, appearance — and COVID vaccination status. “Instead of getting basted, these two turkers are getting boosted today,” he cracked — on the same day that the Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccine booster shots for all adults with any of the approved or authorized vaccines..
Watch it here:
The White House first introduced the pair of plucky birds escaping the carving knife this year on Thursday. The VIPs (very important poultry) hail from a southern Indiana farm in Jasper, and they were put up in the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. The hefty Hoosiers — weighing 40 pounds each! — were said to have enjoyed a bath and ordered some corn and soybean feed from room service.
It’s safe to say they are having a better week than the roughly 46 million turkeys that will be eaten this Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation.
Now Peanut Butter and Jelly will return to Indiana to roost at Purdue University’s Animal Sciences Research and Education farm for the rest of their days. (Domesticated turkeys can live around 10 years.)
The feel-good photo opp has a long and colorful history, according to the White House Historical Association, with reports of presidents being gifted turkeys for the holidays dating back to the 1860s. And there are scattered reports of presidents sparing some Thanksgiving turkeys, such as Abraham Lincoln granting clemency to one in 1863, and President John F. Kennedy pardoning another 100 years later, saying “Let’s keep him going.”
President Ronald Reagan began the modern tradition of sending the national Thanksgiving turkey to retire on a farm in the 1980s. But the more formal “ceremony” of pardoning the bird began under President George H.W. Bush in 1989. In recent years, two turkeys have often squared off in an online vote for Americans to decide which one should avoid the ax — but the commander-in-chief ends up pardoning them both.
Voters weren’t asked to weigh in on which feathered friend was spared this year, however. Biden granted them both a Thanksgiving reprieve on Friday.
The levity comes at a time when Americans are bracing for one of the most expensive Thanksgivings in history, with inflation as well as demand and supply chain issues driving up the cost of turkeys to the highest it’s been this century.
Indeed, some of the comments under the White House tweet introducing Peanut Butter and Jelly included people demanding that Biden “pardon student loans instead,” or address other pressing issues.
Peanut Butter and Jelly, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and alternate, walk about in their suite at the Willard Hotel. They were pardoned by President Joe Biden.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
And when a pool reporter asked the White House on Wednesday why Biden is pardoning two turkeys before he has granted a single pardon or commutation to any human beings, press secretary Andrew Bates said that Biden has taken steps to explore the use of his clemency powers, and will elaborate more in the future.
For now, “I think the American people very clearly understand the distinction between what is a light-hearted tradition on the one hand, and then an extremely serious and core priority for the president,” said Bates.