History of the White House Ceremony

In 1947, President Harry Truman received a live turkey from the National Turkey Federation in what has become an annual White House Thanksgiving tradition.  The presentation signals the beginning of the holiday season of national thanks, historically representing agriculture’s bountiful harvest. The presentation also highlights the contributions of America’s turkey growers as well as the important role of agriculture in modern America.

Older than our nation itself is the hallowed custom of resting from our labors for one day at harvest time and of dedicating that day to expressions of gratitude to Almighty God for the many blessings which He has heaped upon us. Now, as the cycle of the year nears completion, it is fitting that we should lift up our hearts again in special prayers.

Thanksgiving Proclamation of President Harry S. Truman, November 10, 1947

In recent years, the Presentation of the National Thanksgiving Turkey has included the custom of “pardoning” the turkey and its alternate. “Pardoning” as a custom began with President George H.W. Bush in 1989. It was the 200th anniversary of President George Washington’s Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving. School children were in attendance and the turkey was quite active. and

Our special guest seems . . . understandably nervous, but 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…

Thanksgiving Proclamation of President George H. W. Bush, November 17, 1989

The custom of “pardoning” has continued with each president since then.

The lighthearted ceremony has afforded the nation the opportunity to observe the opening of the holiday season of thanks with remarks by the president reflecting upon the many blessings of our nation.

Following the presentation, the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate are transported to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, where they reside under the care of veterinarians and poultry science students.