The true backstory of the annual presidential turkey pardon is just plain odd

Every Thanksgiving for the last 20 years, Donald Trump's family has headed down to his glamorous Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for a formal feast. But this time next year, he will be hanging out with a hefty bird and hopefully slinging a couple of dad jokes.

The presidential turkey pardon remains one of America's weirdest Thanksgiving traditions, right up there with frozen fowl bowling, pumpkin chucking and stuffing bread into a raw bird's behind.

A history of presidential turkey pardons
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A history of presidential turkey pardons
President Nixon Giving Annual Pardon to Thanksgiving Turkey (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Pres. Ronald Reagan and the annual Pardong of the Thanksgiving Turkey. (Photo By: /NY Daily News via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : US President Bill Clinton stands with the annual Thanksgiving turkey as his handler Walter Gislason (L) looks on during presentation ceremonies 24 November at the White House in Washington, DC. The bird, presented to the President by the National Turkey Federation was given an official pardon from becoming dinner and sent to a local petting zoo. AFP PHOTO/Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, : US President George W. Bush, with Chairman of the National Turkey Federation Ron Prestige (L) and President of the National Turkey Federation Dr. Alice Johnson (C), looks at Katie the turkey 26 November 2002 after he granted the turkey a presidential pardon in a Rose Garden Ceremony at the White House in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Shawn THEW (Photo credit should read SHAWN THEW/AFP/Getty Images)
ST/PARDON 11/17/2004 Robert A. Reeder TWP Annual event at the White House where the President pardons a turkey, this one named Biscuits, a West Virginia bird. Ceremony took place in the Rose Garden. Here, Bush holds Biscuit by the neck. Behind the turkey is Daniel Karunakaren.
WASHINGTON - NOVEMBER 25: U.S. President Barack Obama pats a turkey named 'Courage' as daughter Sasha (2nd R) looks on during an event to pardon the 20-week-old and 45-pound turkey at the North Portico of the White House November 25, 2009 in Washington, DC. The Presidential pardon of a turkey has been a long time Thanksgiving tradition that dates back to the Harry Truman administration. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama (2nd L) gestures with his daughters Sasha (2nd R) and Malia (R) in the Rose Garden of the White House during the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon November 21, 2012 in Washington, DC, as National Turkey Federation Chairman Steve Willardsen holds Cobbler. Obama pardoned turkeys Cobbler and Gobbler, both raised in Rockingham County, Virginia. The turkeys will then spend the rest of the holiday season on display at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate. The turkeys were raised by Craig and Nancy Miller in Rockingham County, Virginia. AFP Photo/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: At two feet tall and about 38 pounds, two full-grown Broad Breasted White domesticated turkeys are paraded before members of the news media in the Crystal Ballroom of the Willard InterContinental November 26, 2013 in Washington, DC. The birds were raised by the National Turkey Federation Chairman John Burkel of Badger, Minnesota, and one of the turkeys will be pardoned Wednesday by U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 27: President Barack Obama with his daughters by his side, Sasha and malia, ceremoniously pardon Popcorn the turkey during the annual 2013 National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardoning Ceremony on the north portico of the White House on Wednesday, November 27, 2013. The turkey, and turkey alternate, will be driven to George Washingtons Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. And will be on display for visitors during Christmas at Mount Vernon, through January 6. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - NOVEMBER 06: A Nicholas White turkey, one of two presidential turkey candidates, sits in an enclosure during a press conference at the InterContinental Hotel on November 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California. Two presidential turkey candidates, known as Tom 1 and Tom 2, are contending for the honor of being named the 2015 National Thanksgiving turkey and being pardoned by U.S. president Barack Obama during a pardoning ceremony at the White House before Thanksgiving. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 25: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) 'pardons' Abe, a 42-pound male turkey during a ceremony with National Turkey Federation Chairman Jihad Douglas (R) and turkey farmer Joe Hedden in the Rose Garden at the White House November 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. In a tradition dating back to 1947, the president pardons a turkey, sparing the tom -- and his alternate -- from becoming a Thanksgiving Day feast. This year, Americans were asked to choose which of two turkeys would be pardoned and to cast their votes on Twitter. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The origin of the bizarre event is hazy. Turkeys have been given to American presidents since at least 1870, when a Rhode Island 'Poultry King' Horace Vose started to send birds to the White House. The highly-publicized gift giving continued until Vose died in 1913, opening up an opportunity for farms all over the country. The New York Post reports that the Coolidge family was even sent a raccoon in 1926 for a holiday meal with 'toothsome flavor.' It instead became the first lady's beloved pet, Melissa.

It is a common misconception that President Truman started the pardon. He allegedly received a crate of live chickens and a live turkey from famers who were protesting 'poultryless Thursdays' in 1947, which is why some associate the annual event with him, but there is no evidence he pardoned the birds.

President Kennedy reportedly spontaneously pardoned a turkey in 1963, when he said "let's keep him going." And in 1987, President Regan informally issued a "pardon" to a turkey and sent him to a petting zoo.

The traditional wasn't made official until 1989 when George H.W. Bush responded to animal rights activists protesting nearby by saying "'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."

Meet Tater and Tot -- 2016's national turkeys
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Meet Tater and Tot -- 2016's national turkeys
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These are not the turkeys you're looking for Chef! @WillardHotel #TurkeyPardon2016
The National Thanksgiving turkeys are getting ready for their close ups! Join us at 11 for their press conference:…
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The Presidential Flock getting fuel and snacks for the final leg of their journey! #DCBound #TurkeyPardon2016
Look who's on their way to D.C.?! #TurkeyPardon2016
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It's almost time for #TurkeyPardon2016 as the Presidential Flock begin their journey from Iowa to DC for the offici…
Looking good @IowaTurkey !

Punny names and lame quips have become equally as much of the tradition as the actual bird.

Obama joked in 2014 that "time flies, even if turkey's don't'." Check out the video above for some of his best (or most groan-worthy) jokes.

So, how does the White House select the lucky birds?

The National Turkey Federation picks a state that will raise the 20-member Presidential Flock. This year, the lucky birds will come from Iowa. A literal beauty pageant takes place to see which turkey can hold still on the podium and handle cameras and crowd noise, which will let Donald Trump's talents shine.

After the turkey that gets pardoned is picked (last year, it was by a Twitter poll) and the birds get their time in the spotlight, they are sent to live out their days in relative luxury all over the country.

In 1987, President Reagan sent a turkey named Charlie to a petting zoo. For many years, birds were sent to live at the Frying Pan Farm in Virginia. From 2005 to 2009, turkeys were sent Disney parks where they served as grand marshals of the Thanksgiving Day parade. Over the following three years, the birds were sent to Mount Vernon, George Washington's estate. Then the 2013-2015 birds went to live at Morven Park, an estate in Virginia operated by operated by the Westmoreland Davis Memorial Foundation.

This year, the chosen turkeys will go to Virginia Tech to live in Gobbler's Rest, a newly-built enclosure located inside the university.

One of this year's birds, Tater or Tot, will be pardoned on Wednesday during Obama's eighth and final ceremony.

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