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Joe Biden spends 81st birthday pardoning turkeys at White House – Know more about this Thanksgiving tradition

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US President Joe Biden marked his 81st birthday on Monday by pardoning two large turkeys – Liberty and Bell. The annual White House tradition has been part of Thanksgiving celebrations in the Western nation for 76 years. The POTUS also made light of his advanced years and revealed that guests in the Oval Office sang “Happy Birthday” to him before the event.

“By the way, it’s my birthday today. I just want you to know, it’s difficult turning 60. Difficult. This is the 76th anniversary of this event, and I want you to know I wasn’t there at the first one,” Biden joked.

Having escaped a ‘fowl’ fate, the two birds will now enjoy their remaining years with a department of the University of Minnesota. According to the President the duo love Honeycrisp apples, ice hockey, a thousand lakes and the Mall of America – the very things that make Minnesota famous.

President Biden’s age has become a recurring point of concern as he seeks re-election in 2024. 

The Democrat’s age has become an issue as he seeks reelection next year. The White House has repeatedly stepped forward to defend his capabilities and the oldest president in US history appeared to be well attuned to the political discourse on Monday. 

Why are turkeys pardoned in the US every year?

The tradition dates to 1947 when the National Turkey Federation – which represents turkey farmers and producers – first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman. While the gobblers were initially intended to be holiday food for the first family it gradually evolved into a gentler tradition. By the late 1980s, the birds were instead given a second chance at life during an often humorous ceremony.

President George HW Bush had even offered public assurance that they would avoid the dinner table as animal rights activists picketed in 1989.

“Look folks, based on their commitment to being productive members of society as they head to their new home at the University of Minnesota … I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds!” Biden declared on Monday.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Updated: 21 Nov 2023, 05:14 AM IST


Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.