President Biden is set to celebrate his 81st birthday at the White House on Monday by honoring a Thanksgiving tradition.
Biden, the oldest president in U.S. history, will join first lady Jill Biden Monday afternoon for the presidential pardons of Liberty and Bell, two Thanksgiving turkeys that will be spared from becoming someone’s dinner. Later, the Bidens will continue holiday festivities by accepting the delivery of the official White House Christmas tree – an 18-and-a-half foot Fraser fir from Fleetwood, North Carolina.
The event marks the unofficial start of the holiday season in the nation’s capital and will be held on the South Lawn this year instead of the Rose Garden.
From there, Biden will eat his Thanksgiving turkey with his family on Nantucket, a Massachusetts island, continuing a long family tradition.
Liberty and Bell will be spared in a tradition that dates back to 1947, when the National Turkey Federation, which represents turkey farmers and producers, first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to President Harry Truman.
Back then, and in preceding Thanksgivings, a turkey was given to the first family for their consumption on the holiday, but by the late 1980s, the tradition had evolved into an often humorous ceremony in which the birds are pardoned.
‘We think that’s a great way to kick off the holiday season and really, really a fun honor,’ Steve Lykken, chairman of the National Turkey Federation and president of the Jennie-O Turkey Store, said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell on Sunday at the Willard Intercontinental, a luxury hotel close to the White House. They were checked into a suite there on Saturday following their dayslong road trip from Minnesota.
The male turkeys, both about 20 weeks old and about 42 pounds, were hatched in July in Willmar, Minnesota. After Biden pardons his third pair of turkeys on Monday, Liberty and Bell will be returned to their home state to be cared for by the University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.
‘They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected, of course, from weather extremes and predators, free to walk about with constant access to water and feed,’ Lykken said Sunday.
Markus Platzer, the Willard’s general manager, called the turkeys ‘very special guests of ours’ and said the hotel’s involvement is its ‘highlight of the year.’ The Willard has housed turkeys for such events for more than 15 years, he said.
‘There are so many bad things going on globally that this is something where everybody, you know, brings a smile [to] the face of the people, at least for a few minutes,’ Platzer said Sunday.
On Sunday, he and the first lady served an early Thanksgiving meal to hundreds of service members from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Gerald R. Ford at Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia, the largest installation of its kind in the world.
More than 200 million turkeys will be eaten on Thanksgiving, Lykken said.
Biden was born on Nov. 20, 1942.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.