Texas may have a reputation for being unforgiving when it comes to crime and punishment, but Lone Star politicians do consistently have one soft-spot: pardoning turkeys.

According to an article at NBC News, the National Turkey Federation has been presenting the Commander-in-Chief with a turkey in a ceremony since the days of Truman. But the bird was typically eaten. That is, until 1963 when John F. Kennedy spontaneously granted his fortunate fowl clemency. Since then, the presidential turkey pardon has become a beloved tradition, meaning all three of our Texas presidents have commuted a bird or two. 

Occasionally these pardons make history. In 2002 George W. Bush pardoned the first ever female turkey, Katie, in a gesture that won high praise from the female turkey community. In 2005, the pardoned bird, Marshmallows, went on to become the honorary grand marshall of Disneyland Thanksgiving Day Parade.

So how exactly are these lucky turkeys chosen? At the TM Daily Post, we theorize that the turkey is a close personal friend of the president, or perhaps a particularly generous campaign donor. However, a 2011 US News and World Report article cruelly disabused us of this notion:

[National Turkey Federation spokeswoman Sherrie] Rossenblatt says the birds are specially selected at birth to be part of the pardoning ceremony. They are exposed to music, hand feeding, cameras, and loud noises to prepare them for the event, covered by the White House press corps. 

“It is kind of like a beauty pageant,” Rosenblatt says. “The turkeys have to look good on camera, but also have a nice demeanor. They have to have pride in the honor that is bestowed upon them.”

Whether the birds earn their honor or not, though, they come out of the event with some photos they can cherish for the rest of their long, pardoned life.  



 LBJ Library photo by Frank Wolfe

George H.W. Bush Presidential Library

AP Images


AP Images

AP Images
And, if you start to miss us over the break (or even if you don’t), please read “The Innocent Man,” executive editor Pamela Colloff’s stunning two-part piece on the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. It’s what we’re grateful for this Thanksgiving.