This year has been filled with many “lasts” for U.S. President Barack Obama. On Wednesday, the president pardoned his last two turkeys—a Thanksgiving tradition at the White House.
This year’s turkeys, Tater and Tot, were being housed at the Willard Hotel near the White House, before their official ceremony with the president. President Obama in his first term started a new tradition of pardoning two turkeys, following the requests of his daughters Sasha and Malia. The president is usually joined by his two daughters for the event, but he joked that this year, they did not attend because “they just couldn’t take my jokes anymore.” Instead, the president was joined on stage by his two young nephews, Austin and Aaron.
This year, both Tater and Tot were in contention for the National Thanksgiving Turkey designation by the president. While Tater won the title, both will be sent to live the rest of their days at Virginia Tech University to be looked after by staff and students there. The turkey pardon ensures that the birds will not become Thanksgiving dinner.
During a joke-filled speech, the president also make a genuine appeal to the American people, speaking of advancements in the economy and marriage equality, among other issued touted during his eight-year administration.
President Obama said it’s a time to remember that “we have a lot more in common than divides us,” also adding that Americans must show the world that the United States is a generous and giving country.
Ahead of the pardoning, the White House ran a social media contest asking Americans to vote on who they would want to win the designation.
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) November 22, 2016
The history of this tradition has been contested. Some believe that the first such pardoning took place under President Harry Truman in 1947, though the Truman Library and Museum said that some of the turkeys he received were destined to become dinner, rather than being pardoned. Some accounts believe that the tradition dates as far back as President Abraham Lincoln.
Just a few days before his assassination in 1963, President John F. Kennedy sent back the turkey he was presented, saying he’d rather that the turkey is let free to “grow.”
However, in 1989, President George H. W. Bush was the first to officially announce that the turkey being presented to him at the White House would be pardoned. “Not this guy—he’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now—and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here,” former President Bush said about the turkey he was presented.
Since then, every president has adopted the same tradition annually at the White House.