In Thanksgiving tradition, Biden grants presidential pardon to turkeys
By Mariana Alfaro,
It was Peanut Butter and Jelly time at the White House.
Two turkeys — named Peanut Butter and Jelly — were pardoned by President Biden on Friday during this year’s annual turkey pardoning ceremony.
“Turkey is infrastructure,” Biden joked as he stood behind the vociferous birds in the Rose Garden. “Peanut Butter and Jelly are going to help build back the Butterball,” he added, a play on his “Build Back Better” slogan for his presidential agenda.
“Peanut Butter and Jelly were selected based on temperament, appearance and I suspect vaccination status,” Biden said as the turkeys gobbled. “Instead of getting basted, these two turkeys are getting boosted.”
Peanut Butter and Jelly were raised by turkey farmer Andrea Welp in Jasper, Ind. At a news conference Thursday, Welp said the two were trained to tolerate media attention and loud noises as her two children often played loud music around the gobblers.
Peanut Butter and Jelly will go on to lives in Purdue University’s Animal Science Research and Education Center, where, according to the school, they will have access to a “shaded grassy area” and stay away from anyone’s Thanksgiving table.
While traditionally only one of the two turkeys is officially pardoned, Biden went ahead and granted mercy to both. Biden pardoned Peanut Butter first, saying he “should be able to uphold his duties, and also, hereby in case that changes, I am going to also pardon his alternative, Jelly.”
Recognizing next week’s holiday amid the pandemic, Biden said, “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 noted that this Thanksgiving might mark the first time many Americans see family and friends since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ll be reconnecting with traditions, with our tables and our hearts full of grace and gratitude for everyone who made it possible,” Biden said. “As we give thanks for what we also keep in our hearts, those who we have lost have lost so much. Those who will have empty seats at the tables this year because the virus, another cruel twist of fate or accident.”
While it is not exactly known which president was the first to receive a turkey and pardon its life, some have traced the tradition back to Abraham Lincoln, who in 1863 freed a turkey after it was sent to the White House. The turkey, Jack, had earned the adoration of Lincoln’s son, Tad, who begged his father to keep the bird away from the family’s Christmas table — meaning Jack wasn’t exactly a Thanksgiving turkey.
Later on, in the 1870s, a poultry farm in Rhode Island began giving turkeys to presidents as gifts. By 1914, any farmer could ship a turkey off to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and, according to the White House Historical Association, these turkey gifts became “established as a national symbol of good cheer.”
The Washington Post used the word “pardon” in 1963 in an article about President John F. Kennedy saying he wanted to let a turkey live. “Let’s keep him going,” Kennedy said about the 55-pound turkey.
Ronald Reagan was the first president to say he would “pardon” a turkey, but he was kidding — reporters had just asked him whether he planned to pardon aides involved in the Iran-contra affair. “Maybe I’ll pardon him,” Reagan quipped, referring to the turkey.
Still, the tradition of pardoning a turkey didn’t become an annual event until years later, when President George H.W. Bush, targeted by animal rights protesters, said, “Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy — he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”
From then on, presidents have gotten a kick out of Thanksgiving festivities by celebrating two turkeys. Usually one gets the presidential pardon and is named the official Thanksgiving turkey. Both turkeys, however, get to live. In 2016, President Barack Obama’s final turkey pardon featured plenty of dad jokes.
“I want to take a moment to recognize the brave turkeys that weren’t so lucky, who didn’t get to ride the gravy train to freedom,” Obama said from the Rose Garden in November 2016. “Who met their fate with courage and sacrifice and proved that they weren’t chicken.”
President Donald Trump carried on the tradition during his years in the White House, last year pardoning Corn, and also sparring the life of Cob. “Thanksgiving is a special day for turkeys,” Trump quipped. “I guess probably, for the most part, not a very good one.”
The 2021 turkeys, Peanut Butter and Jelly, were, like other recently pardoned turkeys, hosted at the Willard InterContinental hotel, where they stayed in a fancy suite as they waited for their ride to the White House.