Biden pardons turkeys “Liberty” and “Bell” in annual Thanksgiving ceremony

President Biden pardoned two lucky turkeys Monday to mark the 76th anniversary of the National Thanksgiving Turkey Ceremony, one of the time-honored, albeit quirky, White House traditions. 

“I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell! Alright,” the president said, to applause. “Congratulations, birds! Congratulations.”

Liberty and Bell have been staying in a room at the luxurious Willard InterContinental hotel near the White House, as is custom, and hail from Willmar, Minnesota.

“These birds have a new appreciation of the word, ‘let freedom ring,'” Mr. Biden said. 

This year’s turkey pardon ceremony happens to fall on Mr. Biden’s 81st birthday. The president doesn’t have any other plans on his public schedule. 

President Biden pardons the national Thanksgiving turkeys Liberty and Bell during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Nov. 20, 2023.
President Biden pardons the national Thanksgiving turkeys Liberty and Bell during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House on Nov. 20, 2023.

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“I just want you to know it’s difficult turning 60,” the president joked, adding that he wasn’t present for the first turkey pardoning event. 

On a more serious note, the president took a moment to remember former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who died Sunday at the age of 96. 

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“This week, we’ll gather with the people we love and the traditions that each of us have built up in our own families,” Mr. Biden said. “We’ll also think about the loved ones we’ve lost, including just yesterday when we lost former first lady Rosalynn Carter, who walked her own path, inspiring a nation and the world along the way. And let’s remind ourselves that we’re blessed to live in the greatest nation on this face of the earth.” 

The origin of the presidential turkey pardon ceremony is a bit murky. President Harry Truman was the first president to hold a photo-op at the White House with a turkey he received from the National Turkey Federation and the Poultry and Egg National Board. The White House says Truman began the tradition, but that’s a claim the Truman Library and Museum has disputed. It’s also possible the ritual began with President Abraham Lincoln after his son urged his father to spare the bird they had planned to eat for Christmas. 

This year’s turkeys were sent to the White House from the Jennie-O Turkey Store, and were hatched in July. 

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Jennie-O says the turkeys have been “receiving the five-star treatment befitting turkeys of their stature.” 

Liberty and Bell will retire to a University of Minnesota farm in the Twin Cities. 

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