In Annual Tradition, Obama Pardons Thanksgiving Turkey


President Barack Obama "pardoned" two turkeys Wednesday ahead of the annual Thanksgiving holiday, when Americans dine on millions of the fattened fowl.

"They say that life is all about second chances," Obama told reporters gathered at the White House Rose Garden for the yearly ceremony. "This November I could not agree more."

The symbolic reprieve means the lucky birds -- Cobbler and understudy Gobbler -- won't end up on the dinner table but will instead live out their days in a custom-made enclosure on George Washington's estate in Mount Vernon, Virginia, the White House said.

Both are 19 weeks old and weigh about 40 pounds (18 kilos).

Their names were chosen from submissions by elementary schools and, for the first time this year, the U.S. public was able to pick which of the two would become the "2012 National Thanksgiving Turkey" by casting a vote on the White House Facebook page.

"The American people have spoken and these birds are moving forward," said Obama, just back from a tour of Asia, in a nod both to the social media poll and his 2012 re-election campaign slogan.

In a further reference to his recent White House win on November 6, Obama joked that Nate Silver of the New York Times -- who in astounding detail had correctly predicted his victory against Republican rival Mitt Romney -- had also foretold which turkeys would be pardoned.

"I joke but for the first time in our history, the winners of the White House turkey pardon were chosen through a highly competitive online vote," he said.

"And once again, Nate Silver completely nailed it. This guy's amazing. He predicted that these guys would win."

The annual tradition dates back to former president John F. Kennedy.

While daughters Sasha and Malia looked on, Obama performed the pardon in an almost pontifical manner with a sign of the cross.

While Sasha gave Cobbler a quick pet on the back feathers, Malia shook her head and refused.

Thanksgiving was first celebrated by pilgrims who fled religious persecution in England. For many Americans, it has become a family-oriented day marked with an enormous meal that centers around roast turkey, an assortment of side dishes and a slice or two of pie.

Wednesday's pardon takes place amid criticism from animal rights group PETA, which urged Obama not to maintain the tradition.

"It makes light of the mass slaughter of some 46 million gentle, intelligent birds and portrays the United States' president as being in some sort of business partnership with the turkey-killing industry," it said in a letter.

"Turkeys do not need to be 'pardoned.' They are not guilty of anything other than being born into a world of prejudice."

Shortly before the turkey pardoning ceremony, PETA demonstrators dressed as turkeys staged a protest outside the White House holding signs that read "Gobble veggies, not turkeys" and "Pardon all the turkeys."

As in years past since 2009, the president and his family will do some community service on Wednesday afternoon before celebrating the holiday on Thursday.

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