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The Thanksgiving celebration and Turkey Pardon tradition have been traced back to President Lincoln’s administration when the president declared in 1863 that the last Thursday in November be regularly commemorated as Thanksgiving Day. In 1989, the formalities of pardoning a turkey gelled, when President George H.W. Bush remarked, “Reprieve,” “keep him going,” or “pardon.”

See a timeline of Thanksgiving Traditions at the White House and read about the History of the Turkey Pardon.

The Turkey Pardon became national news in the 1920s with accounts of turkeys taking exciting cross-country trips to the White House and arriving dressed for the occasion in goggles, sweaters and in decorated coops. Read about these stories and other game sent to the White House for Thanksgiving- including a raccoon that became First Lady Coolidge’s pet.

The Thanksgiving meal traditionally included turkey, Chesapeake Bay oysters, rockfish from the Potomac, terrapin from the Eastern shore, cranberries from Cape Cod, and mince and pumpkin pies.

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About the white house historical association

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy envisioned a restored White House that conveyed a sense of history through its decorative and fine arts. She sought to inspire Americans, especially children, to explore and engage with American history and its presidents. In 1961, the White House Historical Association was established to support her vision to preserve and share the Executive Mansion’s legacy for generations to come. Supported entirely by private resources, the Association’s mission is to assist in the preservation of the state and public rooms, fund acquisitions for the White House permanent collection, and educate the public on the history of the White House. Since its founding, the Association has given more than $50 million to the White House in fulfillment of its mission.

To learn more about the White House Historical Association, please visit

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