WASHINGTON — Turkeys Liberty and Bell have a new appreciation for the phrase “Let Liberty Ring.”
Thanksgiving birds played their part Monday in an annual White House tradition that this year coincided with President Joe Biden’s 81st birthday: The president granted a pardon and spared them from becoming someone’s Christmas dinner.
First, Biden – the oldest president in US history – wanted to downplay his age.
“Today, by the way, is my birthday,” the president said, adding that guests in the Oval Office sang “Happy Birthday” to him before the ceremony. “I just want you to know that turning 60 is hard. It’s hard.”
He also noted that presenting Turkey to the White House on National Thanksgiving Day has been a tradition for more than seventy years.
“This is the 76th anniversary of this event, and I want you to know that I wasn’t at the first one,” Biden said. The Democrat’s age has become an issue as he seeks re-election next year.
Before the pardon, Biden said that although Liberty and Bell are from Minnesota, they were named after the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
“These birds have a new appreciation for the word ‘let freedom ring,'” he said, adding that they love Honeycrisp apples, ice hockey, Thousand Lakes and the Mall of America – everything the Midwestern state is famous for. Minnesota is known as the “land of 10,000 lakes.”
They overcame “some hardships” to get to the White House, Biden continued, saying they “had to work hard, be patient and be willing to travel over a thousand miles.” He suggested that their stunt was probably more difficult than getting a ticket for Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour or “Britney’s tour, it’s downstairs, it’s pretty warm in Brazil right now.” Apparently he got his female pop stars mixed up; Taylor Swift was in Brazil over the weekend as part of her Eras tour; Britney Spears is not currently on tour.
“Look, folks, given their commitment to being productive members of society as they head to their new home at the University of Minnesota… I hereby apologize to Liberty and Bell. Congratulations, birds!” Biden declared.
Hundreds of guests, including Cabinet secretaries and White House staffers who brought their children, watched from the South Lawn as Biden ushered in the unofficial start of the holiday season in Washington. His grandchildren Maisy Biden and Beau Biden watched the ceremony from the sidelines, and after the ceremony, Beau was brought in to pet one of the turkeys.
Later Monday, military families joined Biden’s wife, first lady Jill Biden, as she accepted a delivery of an 18.5-foot (5.6 m) Fraser fir from Cline Church Nursery in Fleetwood, North Carolina. It will be displayed in the Blue Room as the official White House Christmas tree.
Steve Lykken, president of the National Federation of Turkey and president of Jennie-O Turkey Store, told The Associated Press last week that the pardons are “a great way to start the holiday season and a really, really fun honor. “
On Sunday, Lykken introduced Liberty and Bell at the Willard Intercontinental, a luxury hotel near the White House. The Gobblers stayed at the apartment on Saturday after arriving on the red carpet in the US capital after a day-long journey from Minnesota in a black Cadillac Escalade.
“They were raised like all of our turkeys, protected of course from extreme weather and predators, allowed to roam freely, with constant access to water and feed,” Lykken said Sunday as Liberty and Bell strolled through the Willard Hotel’s recently renovated Crystal Room with foil plastic placed on the carpet.
The male turkeys, both about 20 weeks old and weighing about 40 pounds, hatched in July in Willmar, Minnesota – where Jennie-O is based – as part of the “presidential flock,” Lykken said. They listened to music and other sounds to prepare for Monday’s party at the White House.
“They listened to all kinds of music to prepare for the crowds and people along the way. I can confirm that they are in fact Swift and they really like Prince,” Lykken said, which means Liberty and Bell are Swift fans. “I think they are absolutely ready for prime time.”
The tradition dates back to 1947, when the National Turkey Federation, representing turkey breeders and producers, first presented President Harry Truman with a National Thanksgiving Day – Turkey.
Back then, and even earlier, the gobbler was served for holiday consumption by the first family. However, in the late 1980s, the tradition evolved into an often humorous ceremony in which the birds are given a second chance at life.
In 1989, as animal rights activists picketed nearby, President George H. W. Bush gave public assurances, saying, “this magnificent turkey will not end up on anyone’s table.”
Now that they have been spared Thanksgiving dinner, Liberty and Bell will be under the care of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences.