This past weekend President Barack Obama and his family celebrated Thanksgiving with all the White House traditions. First Obama pardoned the National Thanksgiving Turkey on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 in a White House ceremony, afterwards the whole family volunteered at Bread for the City. Then on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 27, the Obamas had a big holiday dinner, but first the President released his Thanksgiving themed weekly address and phoned members of the military. In the evening, the first couple appeared in a pre-recorded ABC interview. On Friday, Nov. 28 Christmas decorating began with First Lady Michelle Obama receiving the official White House Christmas tree. Capping off their annual tradition on Saturday, Nov, 29, the president began his holiday shopping, buying books and supporting small businesses at Politics and Prose bookstore.
First Obama conducted the annual Thanksgiving turkey pardon on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 in a White House ceremony attended also by his daughters Malia, 16 and Sasha, 13. There were two birds competing in this latest round to be either the National Thanksgiving Turkey or the runner-up, Mac and his brother Cheese. The two birds were born and “raised on with Presidential Turkey Flock at Cooper Farms in Fort Recovery, Ohio.” Since 2012, voting for the official turkey has been done through Twitter, and the contest called “America’s Next Top Turkey,” with voters using the hashtags #TeamMac or #TeamCheese. Only the winner Cheese attended the official ceremony. Cheese is 20-weeks-old and 48 pounds. The two pardoned turkeys move on to Morven Park’s “Turkey Hill,” in Leesburg, Va., the home of pardoned turkeys since 2010, and former Virginia governor Westmoreland Davis.
President Obama’s speech was filled with jokes about executive actions and amnesty, referring to his immigration executive actions, granting amnesty, stopping deportations for 4.7 million illegal immigrants. The executive actions have not been going over to well with the American public in general; those affected think the president did not do enough to thwart deportations, while Republicans have threatened a government shutdown, impeachment, censure, or a lawsuit and have the GOP Congressional leadership promised to stop him.
The president joked, comparing his turkey pardoning to his immigration actions, “I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month.” Continuing his gag, Obama stated; “Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority — the same kind of action taken by Democrat and Republican presidents before me, to spare the lives of two turkeys, Mac and Cheese, from a terrible and delicious fate. Some will call this amnesty, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around.”
President Barack Obama’s remarks were filled not only with immigration analogies, but also with Thanksgiving holiday jokes, saying; “Let’s face it, if you’re a turkey and you’re named after a side dish — your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low, so these guys are well ahead of the curve.” On a more serious note, Obama also thanked American service men and women in the military, expressing, “Remember the folks who can’t spend their holidays at home. Especially the brave men and women in uniform who help keep our country secure.”
Later in the afternoon he, First Lady Michelle and their two daughters donated two additional donated turkeys, and volunteered at Bread for the City, an agency that “provides vulnerable residents of Washington, DC, with comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect.” Each member of the Obama family handed out thanksgiving food to those in need. Obama handed-out “bags of sweet potatoes,” Mrs. Obama “turnips,” Malia “cranberry sauce and canned beans,” Sasha “canned mixed vegetables and White House Hershey kisses,” and the president’s mother-in-law, Marian Robinson gave out “fresh bread.” Volunteering at a food bank is part of the Obama’s annual tradition.
On Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, Nov. 27 the Obama family had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, earlier in the day, the president phoned the troops, and started the day by releasing his Thanksgiving themed weekly address entitled “Happy Thanksgiving from the Obama Family.” In his address, the president wished the country holiday greetings, and expressed that “Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, more than any other, it is uniquely American. Each of us brings our own traditions and cultures and recipes to the table – but we all share this day, united by the gratitude for the bounty of this nation.”
President Obama also thanked military service members for their sacrifices for the safety of the country; “To our service members who are away from home, we say an extra prayer for you and your loved ones, and we renew our commitment to take care of you as well as you’ve taken care of us.” The president made sure to remember volunteers at “soup kitchens and shelters” for their work “looking out for those who are less fortunate, and lifting up those who have fallen on hard times.” Obama pointed out that “This generosity, this compassion, this belief that we are each other’s keepers, is essential to who we are, not just on this day, but every day.”
Concluding his Thanksgiving address, the president asked the nation to instead of emphasizing the differences, “what separates us” politically and socially, American should as they “gather with loved ones on this Thanksgiving, let’s remember and be grateful for what binds us together. Our love of country. Our commitment to justice and equality. Our belief that America’s best days are ahead, and that her destiny is ours to shape – and that our inherited ideals must be the birthright of all of our children.”
The president also phoned “representatives of each of the five service branches: the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.” According the official readout of the calls, Obama expressed “his appreciation on Thanksgiving Day on behalf of a grateful nation,” thanking them for all they do for “the safety and security of the American people.” First Lady Michelle also thanked America’s troops with a Twitter post, “As we celebrate #Thanksgiving, let’s give thanks to our men and women in uniform serving our country far from their homes and families. -mo”
On Thanksgiving evening, a special interview with the president and first lady aired on ABC. The interview conducted by Robin Roberts focused on the meaning of the holiday and American troops, with some scoop on their favorite pie deserts. First Lady Michelle expressed; “I think this Thanksgiving time is a time for all of us to reflect on those military gold star families who are having dinner without a loved one there. It’s easy to get lost in the food and the fellowship, but Thanksgiving is a time for reflection.”
While President Obama discussed his Thanksgiving tradition to call to members of the military; “A lot of times during these holidays, I’ll actually make calls to folks who are deployed. We’ll just call ’em up and say, ‘thank you.’ It’s a great idea for every American, every day, but especially during the holiday season. You know, you see a service member — you just go up and say, ‘Thanks, we appreciate it.’ Because the sacrifices they make are extraordinary.”
The interview included a pie testing in the White House kitchen, where Obama complained that the first lady never shares her desserts. Michelle replied it is “Cause he eats it like that. Look, the crust is gone, everything that makes a pie delicious is gone in his one bite!” To which Obama joked “Do I have to, like, take a small bite because I’m on TV?” The president revealed his favorite Thanksgiving pie flavor is pumpkin, and described, “The proper way to eat your pie is you should have just a little whipped cream on top. We go all out on pies. We don’t play with pie.”
This year there were only six pies at the White House Thanksgiving dinner, down from nine last year. The menu included traditional thanksgiving fare, “thyme-roasted turkey” “honey-baked ham” as the main courses. As for the side dishes, there was “cornbread and oyster stuffings, braised winter greens, sweet potato gratin, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and dinner roles,” and of course macaroni and cheese. Although there are less pie varieties this year, the selection was still diverse enough and included; “banana cream, coconut cream, pumpkin, apple, pecan and cherry pies.”
On Friday, Nov. 28, the White House Christmas tree was delivered. First Lady Michelle, Malia and Sasha, and first dogs Bo and Sunny were there to meet is as it arrived at the North Portico in a carriage drawn by four Clydesdale horses. This year’s tree is an 18.5-foot-tall Douglas Fir from the Crystal Spring Tree Farm in Leighton, Pennsylvania, and owner Chris Botek was on hand to present the tree that will reside this holiday season in the White House Blue Room. The First Lady will unveil the Christmas decoration in a reception for military families on Dec. 3.
The last annual Thanksgiving holiday tradition that Obama does each year is going shopping on Small Business Saturday, on Nov. 29 which supports small businesses, and buying books at Washington, D.C.’s Politics and Prose bookstore. Obama purchased 17 books at the store with his daughters. The president joked with the shoppers and “picked up a baby,” then asked, “Do I get a discount for that?” to which the clerk said he only get a “neighbor’s discount.” Obama was also confronted with a serious question when a shopper asked when he would be “clos[ing] the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, to which he answered, “We’re working on it.” The White House released the full list of books the president purchased, which include the following:
“Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande
“Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus” (Junie B. Jones Series #1) by Barbara Park
“Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business” (Junie B. Jones Series #2) by Barbara Park
“A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More” by Doreen Cronin
“I Spy Sticker Book and Picture Riddles” by Jean Marzollo
“Nuts to You” by Lynn Rae Perkins
“Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson
“Redwall” (Redwall Series #1) by Brian Jacques
“Mossflower” (Redwall Series #2) by Brian Jacques
“Mattimeo” by Brian Jacques (Redwall Series #3)
“Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms” by Katherine Rundell
“The Narrow Road to the Deep North” by Richard Flanagan
“The Laughing Monsters” by Denis Johnson
“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr
“Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad
“Nora Webster” by Colm Toibin
“Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China” by Evan Osnos
The 2014 White House Christmas Tree Arrives, Nov. 28, 2014
President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Happy Thanksgiving from the Obama Family, Nov. 27, 2014
Weekly Address: Happy Thanksgiving from the Obama Family, Nov. 27, 2014
The First Family Participates in a Service Project, Nov. 26, 2014
Remarks by President Barack Obama at Pardoning of the National Turkey, Nov. 26, 2014
President Obama Pardons the National Turkey, Nov. 26, 2014
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.