Presidential Turkey Pardon 2021: Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation Date, Time and History

The Thanksgiving tradition sees the president "pardon" a turkey and its counterpart, sparing them from being served up on a dinner table over the holiday. The pardon is declared in a ceremony at the White House, usually at the Rose Garden.

This year's lucky yet-to-be-named turkeys hail from Jasper, Indiana, White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced last Friday.

"We're all very excited to meet the soon-to-be famous turkey and its alternate," Psaki said, according to the Indianapolis Star.

When Is the 2021 Presidential Turkey Pardon Presentation?

The annual ceremony usually takes place in the morning days before Thanksgiving. In 2021, it will be held on November 19.

A Brief History of the Presidential Turkey Presentation

Presidents have received turkeys for the holiday from at least the 19th century. During the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, starting from 1873, a man from Rhode Island named Horace Vose was responsible for "selecting with the utmost care" the "noblest gobbler" in the state for the president's Thanksgiving dinner, according to a 2011 blog on an archived White House website.

The White House Historical Association explains: "The First Families did not always feast upon Vose's turkeys, but the yearly offering gained his farm widespread publicity and became a veritable institution at the White House."

Following Vose's death, from 1914, the opportunity to give a turkey to a president was open to all and such gifts were often associated with "patriotism, partisanship and glee," the association says.

According to the National Turkey Federation, the presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey has been observed since 1947 when former president Harry S. Truman received a live turkey (weighing 47 pounds) from the federation.

The turkey presentation marks the start of "the holiday season of national thanks," the federation says.

Turkeys seen ahead of pardoning in 2015.
Two turkeys seen at the Willard Inter Continental Hotel ahead of their "pardon" by former president Barack Obama at the White House on November 24, 2015. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

When Did the Presidential Turkey Pardon Begin?

There is debate on exactly who started the pardoning tradition. According to one story, Tad (the son of former president Abraham Lincoln) begged his father to pardon a turkey fated to be their family Christmas dinner, "arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone." Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived to see another day, an archived White House website explains.

According to the U.S. National Constitution Center, the late John F. Kennedy began a trend of publicly sparing a turkey gifted to the White House back in November 1963. The turkey, which at the time wore a sign that read "Good Eatin' Mr. President," was spared by Kennedy just three days before his assassination in Dallas, Texas.

While former presidents Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan have all held turkey press conferences, it wasn't until 1989 during the presidency of George H.W. Bush that the turkey pardon was made official, the center notes.

According to the National Turkey Federation, which raises the birds for the presidential pardon ceremony, a pardoned turkey will be lucky to live two years after it's spared by the president.

Donald Trump pardons a Thanksgiving turkey.
Former president Donald Trump, pictured next to his wife Melania Trump, as he pardons the National Thanksgiving Turkey "Corn" at the Rose Garden of the White House on November 24, 2020. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images