Biden spends 81st birthday honoring White House tradition of pardoning Thanksgiving turkeys

Liberty and Bell are ready for their presidential pardons.

The two Thanksgiving turkeys were due at the White House on Monday to play their part in what has become an annual holiday tradition: a president sparing them from being someone's dinner.

“We think it's a great way to start the holiday season and a really, really fun price,” Steve Lykken, president of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, told The Associated Press.

The event, set for the South Lawn this year instead of the Rose Garden, marks the unofficial start of the holiday season in Washington, and Monday was shaping up to be an especially busy opening day.

President Joe Biden, the oldest president in US history, also celebrated his 81st birthday on Monday. In the afternoon, his wife, first lady Jill Biden, accepted the delivery of an 18-and-a-half-foot Fraser fir from Fleetwood, North Carolina, as the official White House Christmas tree.

Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell on Sunday at the Willard Intercontinental, a luxury hotel near the White House. The foodies checked into a suite there on Saturday after arriving on the red carpet in the US capital following a day-long road trip from Minnesota in a black Cadillac Escalade.

“They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected, of course, from extreme weather and predators, free to roam with constant access to water and food,” Lykken said Sunday, as Liberty and Bell roamed around the newly Willard's renovated Crystal Room. on a plastic sheet over the carpet. Small children in the crowd of spectators – many of whom were employees and guests of the Jennie-O company – shouted at them to “swallow, devour”.

The male turkeys, about 20 weeks old and about 42 pounds, hatched in July in Willmar, Minnesota — Jennie-O is based there — as part of the “presidential flock,” Lykken said. They listened to music and other sounds to prepare them for Monday's hoopla at the White House.

“They were listening to all kinds of music to get ready for the crowds and the people on the march. I can confirm that they are, in fact, Swifties, and they enjoy some Prince,” Lykken said, meaning Liberty and Bell are Taylor Swift fans. “I think they're absolutely ready for prime time.”

The tradition dates back to 1947 when the National Turkey Federation, which represents turkey farmers and producers, first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman.

Then, and in the past, the gourmand was given for the consumption of the first family during the holidays. But by the late 1980s, the tradition had evolved into an often humorous ceremony in which the birds are pardoned, given a second chance at life after being spared ending up on a family's Thanksgiving table.

In 1989, as animal rights activists picketed nearby, President George H. W. Bush said, “But let me assure you, and this fine turkey, that it will not end up on anyone's table, not his the guy — he was pardoned by the President. from now on — and let him live out his days on a children's farm not far from here.'

After Biden pardons his third pair of turkeys on Monday, Liberty and Bell will be returned to their home state to be cared for by the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.

“You can imagine the wonderful care they're going to get from students, vets and professors, etc., and so hopefully they'll get a chance to, maybe, go see a hockey game or spend time with Goldie the gopher “, Lykken said referring to the university's mascot.

Just over 200 million turkeys will be eaten on Thanksgiving, Lykken said.

Biden will eat his Thanksgiving turkey with his family on Nantucket, an island in Massachusetts, continuing a long family tradition. On Sunday, he and the first lady served a Thanksgiving meal to hundreds of service members from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, the largest installation of its kind in the world , together with their families.

Markus Platzer, general manager of the Willard, said the hotel's role in presenting the turkeys is the “highlight of the year.” Willard has been participating for more than 15 years, he said, calling the turkeys “our very special guests.”

“There's so much bad stuff going on in the world that this is something where everybody, you know, puts a smile on people's faces, at least for a few minutes,” Platzer said Sunday.