On Tuesday evening, the President and the First Lady departed the White House for Nantucket, Massachusetts, to celebrate Thanksgiving. 

Spending Thanksgiving in Nantucket is a Biden tradition. The first family has spent every Thanksgiving since 1975 in Nantucket, except in 2020, when due to the COVID pandemic, Biden stayed at his home in Delaware

The short trip, according to the President, is a way of avoiding choosing whose family to spend the holidays with. In his memoir “Promise Me, Dad,” Biden wrote that “no matter which family we chose to spend the holiday with, we were going to hurt somebody’s feelings, which was the last thing either Jill or I wanted to do.”

On Monday, the President and the First Lady hosted a “Friendsgiving” Dinner with Service Members and Military Families at the Marine Corps Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina. 

The President thanked the Service Members for their work. “The American people have no idea the sacrifices you’re making. One percent — one percent of you represents 99 percent of the public. You’re all volunteers. You all just show up.”

National Thanksgiving Turkeys: Chocolate and Chip. [Photo: ©WhiteHouse]

On Monday, Biden also appeared on the South Lawn to pardon Chocolate and Chip, the two turkeys he named after his favorite ice cream.

The tradition of pardoning White House turkeys has been traced to President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 clemency to a turkey recorded in an 1865 dispatch by White House reporter Noah Brooks who noted, “a live turkey had been brought home for the Christmas dinner, but [Lincoln’s son Tad] interceded in behalf of its life. . . . [Tad’s] plea was admitted and the turkey’s life spared.”

However, it was not until George H.W. Bush administration that “turkey pardoning” became an official White House tradition. 

November 17, 1989. President George H. W. Bush stands in the Rose Garden during the first official turkey pardoning ceremony on November 17, 1989. Presidents and their families have received turkeys for the holidays as far back as the 1870s. However, the origin of the turkey pardon is said to have started with President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, after he offered a clemency to a turkey purchased for Christmas dinner at his son’s request. The pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey became a formalized tradition during the Ronald Reagan years before President Bush’s first official pardoning in 1989. (Photo Credit: George Bush Presidential Library and Museum/NARA)

According to The White House Historical Association Historian Lina Mann, “While many turkeys have found their way to the White House over the years, it appears that most presidents did not “pardon” these birds.”

The formal tradition of the turkey pardon, Mann explained “solidified in 1989 when President George H. W. Bush remarked: “‘Reprieve,’ ‘keep him going,’ or ‘pardon’: It’s all the same for the turkey, as long as he doesn’t end up on the President’s holiday table.”

In 1989, President Bush jokingly remarked, “But let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy—he’s presented a Presidential pardon as of right now—and allow him to live out his days on a children’s farm not far from here.” It has been an annual tradition ever since.

The history behind the Thanksgiving holiday 

In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed that the first “Day of Public Thanksgiving” would be celebrated on November 26, 1789. That was the first time Thanksgiving was commemorated under the new Constitution. 

Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Thanksgiving in the US was only sometimes celebrated on an exact date. 

Following the Battle of Gettysburg, which caused more than 50,000 American deaths, President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Proclamation officiated Thanksgiving celebrations on the last Thursday of November. 

“I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving…” stated Lincoln’s proclamation. 

However, in 1939, due to the last Thursday of November falling on the last day of the month, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season would dampen the economic recovery, Thanksgiving was officially moved to the second to last Thursday in November. 

Letter from Shelby Bennett to FDR about Thanksgiving date change; 8/22/1939; OF 54: Thanksgiving: Re: Change in Date: A – B 1939-1941; Franklin D. Roosevelt President’s Official Files, 1933 – 1945; Collection FDR-FDRPOF: President’s Official Files (Roosevelt Administration); Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, NY. 

32 states followed Roosevelt’s decision, while 16 refused. For two years, two different dates were dedicated to celebrating Thanksgiving. 

Finally, on October 6, 1941, the House of Representatives passed a joint resolution declaring the last Thursday in November as the legal Thanksgiving Day. Taking into account the years when November has five Thursdays, the Senate modified the resolution, establishing that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the fourth Thursday of the month. The House agreed, and President Roosevelt signed the resolution on November 26, 1941. 

How American presidents celebrate Thanksgiving

Except for 2020, when former president Donald Trump spent the holidays in the White House, the Trump family would host Thanksgiving celebrations at their Mar-a-Lago residency. 

President Donald J. Trump visits troops at Bagram Airfield on Thursday, November 28, 2019, in Afghanistan, during a surprise visit to spend Thanksgiving with troops. (Photo by Shealah Craighead)

The Trumps would call troops at overseas bases and visit the local Coast Guard station. In 2019, after his trip to Mar-a-Lago, Trump flew to Afghanistan to surprise the troops working abroad. 

“During this season of gratitude, we also acknowledge those who cannot be with their families. This includes the brave American patriots of our Armed Forces who selflessly defend our sacred liberty at home and abroad,” Trump stated in his annual Thanksgiving proclamation in 2020. 

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden serve dinner and greet attendees during a “Friendsgiving” event with service members and military families as part of the Joining Forces initiative, Monday, November 22, 2021, at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. (Photo by Adam Schultz)

Throughout the years, the former president and first-lady Obama shared pictures and messages on social media celebrating the holiday. With throwback pictures and fresh shots of the family, the Obamas wish American families a happy Thanksgiving! 

In 2016, Michelle Obama shared a more recent version of the picture above to celebrate Thanksgiving. 

  

In Obama’s last year in the White House, the former president posted a picture with his then teenage daughters. 

Last year, the Bidens shared a meal with family members in Nantucket.

The menu included: Thyme-Roasted Turkey, Grandma Jacobs’ Savory Stuffing, Classic Turkey Gravy, Roasted Kitchen Garden Fall Vegetables, Sweet Potatoes, Kale, and Button Mushrooms, Cranberry Relish, Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, and Chocolate Chip Ice Cream. 

For 2022 Thanksgiving, Ron Klein has shared “one last item for your Thanksgiving dinner,” a menu of President Biden’s top accomplishments.

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