Some strange traditions are really just turkeys


This article first appeared in the Herald Sun

The fourth Thursday in November, known in America as Thanksgiving, is quite a big deal in the USA and not just because it celebrates three of their favorite pastimes – over-eating, a parade with a corporate sponsor, and a sport nobody else plays.

The following Friday is then ‘Black Friday’, the equivalent of Australia’s Boxing Day sales, and involves flat-screen televisions raining from the sky, people getting trampled for a slight discount on an electric kettle, and others getting shot because America.

What doesn’t get enough attention is the Tuesday before all this goes down, when one of the strangest traditions in the world occurs. The President of the United States pardons at least one and usually two turkeys. This year, the turkeys are from Western Minnesota and named ‘Drumstick’ and ‘Wishbone’.

The US media are worried that Donald Trump will somehow stuff it up and make a meal of the whole thing (pun intended). Different sources have suggested that he may carry through the acquittal but eat them anyway. Or have his sons shoot the birds as a show of support for the NRA. Or after pardoning them, berate the turkeys for not thanking him properly.

Unfortunately for everyone except the two turkeys, the pardon went down without an international incident. Trump did threaten to overturn Obama’s executive order pardoning last year’s turkeys ‘Tater’ and ‘Tot’, and stroked one of the turkeys for so long it was about to tweet #metoo, until it remembered nobody cared about the real women Trump sexually assaulted. In a rare move for Trump, however, he did last an entire media appearance without defending white nationalists or pedophile judges, or claiming Vladimir Putin is a great guy.

Thanksgiving goes back to around 1621, but it wasn’t until 1947 that a turkey was first presented to a president, and no records mention whether President Harry Truman pardoned that bird. Indeed, there is evidence that he ate it. Eisenhower then ate the birds presented to him as well.

Kennedy apparently spared a turkey on Nov 18, 1963, just four days before his assassination. The bird was wearing a sign that read, “Good Eatin’ Mr President” and weighed fifty-five pounds, a size which apparently made the president uncomfortable.

The first president to officially pardon a turkey was Reagan in 1987, who at the time was being questioned over whether he would pardon Oliver North for his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. To distract everyone’s attention, Reagan pardoned a turkey instead. Then in 1989 George Bush senior made it a regular thing. Again, most likely for purposes of distraction.

The turkeys selected for a presidential pardon are actually a special breed. From a cast of thousands, eighty are randomly selected at birth, then trained to handle flash photography, loud noises and large crowds. Making them basically a Kardashian with wings.

This field of eighty is reduced to twenty, with the final two selected by White House staff. Their renowned abilities for picking a turkey have also come in handy when choosing secret service staff, and where to invade next.

The turkeys up for a pardon are fed on the same grain-heavy diet of fortified corn and soybeans as the turkeys raised for slaughter, as it increases their size.

With this diet comes many health problems, and the turkeys frequently die within a year of being pardoned. Which makes it less of a ‘pardon’ and more a refusal to give the bird the assisted benevolent suicide that it craves.

This article first appeared in the Herald Sun

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.

His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.

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