U.S. President Barack Obama pardons "Popcorn" with his daughters Sasha and Malia at the White House, Nov. 27, 2013.
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Obama picks a turkey to pardon, but both will escape unscathed

Updated

President Obama exercised his power of reprieve Wednesday, kicking off the Thanksgiving holiday by pardoning the 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey—a 20-week-old bird named Popcorn. 

The battle to win the presidential pardon this year started with dozens of birds, but ultimately pitted two turkeys against one another: Popcorn vs. Caramel. Both of the plump birds share a birthday – July 8, 2013 – and hail from Badger, Minn. The White House let democracy rule, encouraging Americans to throw their support with #TeamPopcorn or #TeamCaramel via the social media. Popcorn prevailed, perhaps because Americans preferred his “garbled” gobble, or enjoyed his “proud strut” over the “steady and deliberate” gait of Caramel. Or perhaps they simply preferred his taste in music – Popcorn chose Beyonce’s “Halo” as his favorite tune; Caramel had a fondness for “Bad Romance” by Lady Gaga. 

But no need to cry fowl for Caramel. In keeping with recent tradition, neither candidate will see a dinner table fate come to fruition. Caramel and Popcorn are set to travel to Mount Vernon Estate – George Washington’s homestead – where they will entertain tourists visiting “Christmas at Mount Vernon” events. The birds will then travel to a permanent home to live out their days at a historic turkey farm Leesburg, Va., according to the White House. 

Liberty, Apple, and Courage are the other turkeys to receive the special second chance from President Obama since he took office in 2009. The first daughters have been on hand for each big day, offering their support and smile. The president took the opportunity to crack a few jokes, including at least one that was self-referential, as he noted that Popcorn’s win proves that “a turkey with a funny name can find a place in politics.”

But Obama made sure to use the opportunity to talk about the importance caring for each other on this “quintessentially American holiday.”

“During this time we give thanks to our friends and our family, for citizens who show compassion to those in need and for neighbors who help strangers they’ve never met,” he said. “We give thanks for the blessings of freedom and opportunity that previous generations have worked so hard to secure, and we give thanks for the service and sacrifice of our brave men and women in uniform who serve our nation around the world.” 

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The White House ushered in the people’s choice approach in 2012, when Americans chose Cobbler over his rival Gobbler. 

The National Turkey Federation has given a bird to the president each year since 1947, but not all have received the generous pardon that White House inhabitants can offer. John Kennedy is believed to be the first modern president to offer a his bird a second chance at life beyond November, saying  “We’ll just let this one grow,” according to the White House. George H.W. Bush is generally credited with beginning the official pardoning tradition in 1989, and all other presidents have followed suit since. 

Long before the Thanksgiving tradition began, one of Obama’s favorite presidential heroes gave what might be the first holiday reprieve from dinner. It is said that Abraham Lincoln gave a Christmas turkey a second chance to appease his son Tad, back in 1863, who subsequently named the bird Jack and let him walk the White House grounds, according to the New York Times

Barack Obama

Obama picks a turkey to pardon, but both will escape unscathed

Updated