Thanksgiving and The Presidential Turkey

November 11, 2013

It’s November, which happens to coincide with my favorite holiday – Thanksgiving! I know what you’re thinking – that’s easy for me to say since I work for the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. But truly, I love the simplicity of Thanksgiving. It’s all about gathering friends and family around a big table full of delicious food (yes, turkey!) and giving thanks for what we have in our lives.

There is no pressure to buy the right gifts or spend a certain amount of money. It’s really just about enjoying the people around us and the food on our plates. I do have to share with you why this year’s Thanksgiving is extra exciting, though – especially for those of us who live in Minnesota. A turkey farmer who lives in the far northwestern part of the state and his family have been invited to the White House for the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardoning ceremony!

The farmer – John Burkel, the current Chairman of the National Turkey Federation – and his family have been busy raising a special “Presidential Flock” of turkeys for this occasion and two lucky birds will be chosen to make the trip to Washington DC. One of the birds – presumably the most well-behaved – will become the officially pardoned National Thanksgiving Turkey, while the other will act as his alternate in case the pardoned turkey is unable to perform his duties.

Presidential Flock

This annual Thanksgiving ceremony at the White House has been a tradition since 1946, when the President was Harry S. Truman. Truth be told, the ceremony wasn’t really a “pardoning” until President George H.W. Bush declared it so but our nation and its leaders have been celebrating Thanksgiving as a truly American holiday for many decades.

This year, you can help suggest names for the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate! Just visit and click on the “Naming Contest” link to submit your ideas! We will pick several pairs over the next week to showcase on Minnesota Turkey’s Facebook page ( for voting. Then, the top 3-5 pairs or so will be submitted to the White House for consideration!

The Presidential Turkey website ( is also a great place to learn more about the history of this event; print out fun stuff for your kids to do while they’re waiting on Thanksgiving dinner; and read our blog, which showcases what’s happening with this year’s Presidential Flock through lots of fun photos and videos.

The Burkel family has been spending many weeks “training” these birds to get used to lots of people around; taking pictures so they get used to cameras and lights; and playing different types of music. The plan is that the two turkeys chosen to go to DC won’t be phased by all the activity and media interest when they are at the White House.

I’ll be traveling to Washington DC and will hopefully be at the pardoning ceremony – truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! (Be sure to follow my own blog as I will be sharing photos and details of the big day at And then I will fly home to be with my husband’s family for Thanksgiving Day. I have much to be thankful for – and I hope you do too!

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