As holidays go, Thanksgiving sure has its share of odd traditions. Live parades with lip-synched musical numbers! Mincemeat pies and Jell-O molds! Grandma Ruthie removing her dentures at the dinner table! Not even the President of the United States is spared his share of the inanity. Case in point: the presidential turkey pardon, an annual pre-Thanksgiving practice in which the POTUS makes a speech about the stuff we should all be thankful for and then poses for a photo-op with a live turkey before sending it off to live the rest of its life uneaten (by humans, anyway).
As ludicrous as it may be, some pardons turn out even wackier than others. The following eight pics and video clips capture what we think have been the most bizarre bird ceremonies in Thanksgiving history.
Truman unleashes gentle humor on turkey (1949)
With daughter Margaret by his side, Pres. Harry Truman reportedly proclaimed that he was going to “greet the bird, then eat the bird.” A minute later, he was all, “No wait, I got a better one! 'If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen!'” And his staff was all, “Dude, you can't come back with a comeback after 60 seconds. You've got like five seconds, tops, bro. Comeback fail!”
JFK's turkey is forced to wear a humiliating sign (1963)
In the good old-fashioned days before America got all touchy-feely-politically correct, presidents didn't pardon turkeys — they ate them. JFK's peeps probably took the whole bird-to-the-slaughter thing a little too far, though, when his 1963 Thanksgiving main course-to-be was made to wear a sign around its neck reading, “Good Eatin' Mr. President.” Then again, maybe the placard swayed Kennedy's sympathies. Upon reading it, he reportedly said, “Let's just keep him.” Ask not what your turkey can do for you — ask what you can do for your turkey!
Ronald Reagan and unidentified Reagan aide with amazing hair “ham” it up with a turkey (1988)
Kids, go ask your parents who that guy is standing to President Reagan's left. Seriously, what is up with that hair? And those giant glasses? Forget the turkey — Reagan should've pardoned that guy's crimes of fashion.
Fake president Jed Bartlet skewers turkey-pardon fakery, 'The West Wing' (2000)
A second season episode of 'The West Wing' provided what was perhaps the greatest send-up of this most ridiculous of holiday rituals. After wryly suggesting that he might “get a reputation for being soft on turkeys,” President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) reluctantly agrees to pardon a second turkey, even though “the turkey hasn't committed a crime” and the president “has really no judicial jurisdiction over birds.” After performing the ceremonial pardon, Bartlett decides, what the hey, I'm going to draft him, too. Then Rob Lowe said something clever while walking down a hallway really fast. Oh, that Aaron Sorkin. What a genius.
George W. Bush Meets an Angry Turkey (2001)
Has there ever been a better comedy duo than George W. Bush and a turkey? The ex-president pardoned several birds during his two terms, and as the video below shows, he was all too familiar with random turkey attacks.
Gov. Sarah Palin Pardons a Turkey in Wasilla (2008)
First of all, the guy standing next to her doesn't even bother to remove his Bluetooth from his ear before the ceremony. Is that what passes for manners in Alaska? Second, note how Palin reads her pardon off a piece of paper like a fourth-grader giving a book report. Lastly, Palin apparently never got the memo that only presidents pardon turkeys. She's going rogue — Pilgrim-style!
Obama “planning to eat this sucker” (2009)
Upon performing his first official act of avian clemency as leader of the free world, Pres. Barack Obama made no beef (or poultry) pointing out the absurdity of it all. “You know, there are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office,” he deadpanned. “Then there are moments like this, when I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland.” (Ba-dum-bum!) Flanked by First Daughters Sasha and Malia (the latter sporting a grungy, layered look, complete with puffy vest — adorbs!), O also joked that if it weren't for the girls' intervention on behalf of the bird, “I was planning to eat this sucker.” Do we smell an Olsen Twins-esque sitcom? 'Sasha and Malia — Turkey Rescuers.'
Obama laughs off worst election ever (2010)
His party may have been annihilated in the midterm elections earlier that November, but the Comedian, er, Commander in Chief wasn't about to ease up on the schtick. Before issuing his pardon, Obama joked, “For the record, let me say that it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November.” Rim shot! (P.S. Sasha and Malia again looked very fashion-forward. Gray's a great color on them!)