WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama pardoned two turkeys on Wednesday in a Rose Garden ceremony, celebrating the 63rd annual tradition of sparing the life of the national Thanksgiving turkey and its understudy.
“Today, I have the awesome responsibility of granting a presidential pardon to a pair of turkeys,” Obama said, standing with daughters Malia and Sasha. “Now, for the record, let me say that it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November.”
The national Thanksgiving turkey this year was named Apple, and its understudy, Cider. The names were chosen from 200 winning names from a school contest in California.
Apple and Cider were two of 20,000 turkeys born this summer at Foster Farms Wellsford Ranch outside of Modesto, Calif. They were among 25 turkeys from the ranch selected to participate in a competition to become the national Thanksgiving turkey, which included the turkeys “strutting their stuff” to music, Obama said.
“Kind of like a turkey version of ‘Dancing With the Stars,’ except the stakes for the contestants was much higher,” he joked.
The turkeys were transported across the country and were put up in the W Hotel until the Rose Garden event.
“It makes you want to stay at the W,” Obama said, smiling.
Yubert Envia, chairman of the National Turkey Federation, handled the turkey during the ceremony.
Obama said his family would deliver two dressed turkeys donated from a Pennsylvania farm to Martha’s Table, a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday afternoon.
“This, of course, is what’s truly meant by Thanksgiving — a holiday that asks us to be thankful for what we have, and generous to those who have less,” Obama said.
He encouraged Americans to give back to their communities during the holiday season, and he thanked U.S. citizens serving abroad.
“On behalf of Michelle, Sasha, Malia and myself, I want to wish everybody a wonderful and happy and safe Thanksgiving,” he said. “And now, it is my great honor, as well, to give Apple and Cider a new lease on life. So as President of the United States, you are hereby pardoned from the Thanksgiving dinner table. May you have a wonderful and joyful life at Mount Vernon. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.”
After the event, the turkeys were driven to Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate in Alexandria, Va., where they will live at the estate’s livestock facility.