The White House - "Liberty" and "Bell" - two turkeys - strutted onto the White House South Lawn Monday and became immediate celebrities for what has become the official beginning of the holidays in Washington.
Amid an autumn day, with Christmas carols playing, President Joe Biden addressed the families of staff, 4-H and Future Farmers of America, and students from Eliot-Hine Middle School as they gathered for the popular event.
Next to him stood a table lined with a fall garland of burgundy, green, orange and yellow, bearing a sign "Happy Thanksgiving 2023." Standing on it was an 18 kg (40lb) turkey, with another next to it on the ground, beside the Minnesota farmers who raised them.
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"I hereby pardon Liberty and Bell," said Biden, as the male turkey fanned its tail. And, with that, the two birds were given the long-held tradition of a long life, just days prior to the American holiday that features a roasted turkey as its centerpiece.
Turkeys on leashes at the White House
In 1989, then President George H.W. Bush promised a crowd of children and reporters that the 23 kg (50lb) turkey donated to the White House would not be eaten.
President Bush was the first to make the pardon an annual action, but not the first to show mercy for a bird. The son of President Abraham Lincoln treated the turkey like a dog, leading him around on a leash inside the White House. Ultimately, President Lincoln granted the turkey clemency.
The act of donating a turkey (or a gaggle of gobblers) dates to the 1800s and embraces the nation's heritage of farmland. For the past month, Biden has traveled to rural America, announcing $5 billion in investments.
"We're restoring hope and opportunity so family farms can stay in the family," proclaimed Biden at Monday's event, "and children don't have to leave home if they wish to stay and make a living on the farm."
Biden told the crowd that the birds love the Minnesota favorites, including Honeycrisp apples, ice hockey, a thousand lakes and the Mall of America.
Turkeys 'Liberty' and 'Bell' will live on at the University of Minnesota, rather than becoming the centerpiece of a traditional American Thanksgiving feast.
Happy 81st birthday
President Biden's 81st birthday coincided with the holiday event. He evoked laughter when he told the crowd, "I just want you to know, it's difficult turning 60." The president's age has been raised by opponents and analysts as he seeks a second term. During his speech Monday, Biden confused Britney Spears with Taylor Swift when referencing Swift's Eras tour in Brazil.
The president plans to celebrate his birthday with family this weekend in Nantucket.
The birds will live on as agriculture models at the University of Minnesota. Having been named after the Liberty Bell, the symbol of independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the president said his pardon gave the turkeys "a new appreciation for the words, 'Let freedom ring.'"