The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation is a ceremony that takes place at the White House every year. The President of the United States is presented with a live domestic turkey and then grants the turkey a "presidential pardon" and spares it from being slaughtered.
The origins of the tradition of pardoning the White House turkey are not clear. Many credit President Harry Truman with starting the informal and lighthearted tradition in 1947, but there are no documents to support this. President Truman kicked off the tradition of receiving a Thanksgiving turkey but evidently never pardoned one. Most likely they ended up on his table.
The Eisenhower Presidential Library has documents in their collection that reveal that President Dwight Eisenhower ate the birds presented to him during his two terms. President John F. Kennedy spared a turkey on Nov. 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, but did not grant a "pardon."
The tradition of pardoning a turkey became more formalized in 1989 during the first Thanksgiving of President George H.W. Bush. For many years the turkeys were sent to Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Starting in 2005, the pardoned turkeys have been sent to either the Disneyland Resort in California or the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, where they serve as the honorary grand marshals of Disney's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Because turkeys are bred to be so heavy that they generally live just 18 weeks. Breeders say it's just too hard to get around the fact that the birds' legs and organs aren't made to carry their weight that often reaches 40 pounds.
However, since Disneyland and Disney World opened retirement ranches for the birds five years ago, their life span has increased a bit.
The turkeys pardoned in 2007, May and Flower, are still showing off their stuffing at Florida's Disney World.
After Obama gives his turkey pardon on Wednesday, the pardoned bird (rumored to actually be two birds)will fly first class to California to head up the Disney Thanksgiving Day Parade. They will then live at Big Thunder Ranch in Frontierland at Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
sources: www.trumanlibrary.org, www.usnews.com