Presidential Turkey Pardons
president bush and a turkey

One pardon has become an annual tradition: the pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.

Skye Chalmers/Getty Images

Thanksgiving in general seems to mystify those not steeped in American traditions, but perhaps no part of that quirky turkey fest seems more bizarre than the annual ceremony during which modern presidents grant an official pardon to a live turkey presented to them by the National Turkey Federation (NTF). Interestingly, there's also been a great deal of confusion among Americans concerning the actual origins of this strange tradition.

Although the NTF has been gifting presidents with turkeys annually since 1947, the whole idea of "pardoning" them by sparing them from the stove didn't occur until years later, and even then, when it did occasionally happen, it certainly wasn't with anything as grandiose as a declaration of an official presidential pardon. The first bird to receive a formal stay of execution in the mode of an expressly stated "presidential pardon" wasn't delivered to the Rose Garden until 1989, when then-President George H. W. Bush started this act of official benevolence that's now become an annual American tradition.