Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition. From the food and activities to what football games are on TV, everyone celebrates in their own way. Presidents have their own Thanksgiving traditions, established by their families or a previous President. Find out how presidents celebrate Thanksgiving ahead.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt changed the date of Thanksgiving in 1939, according to ABC News. Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November because he was concerned about the toll a late Thanksgiving would have on retail sales for Christmas. This was especially worrisome because the Great Depression left the economy in ruins. When Roosevelt moved the holiday, “Sixteen states refused to move Thanksgiving, meaning the holiday was celebrated on two separate days in the United States for two years,” ABC News said.
Next: This president traveled during Thanksgiving.
George H.W. Bush
George H.W. Bush visited troops abroad on Thanksgiving Day in 1990 where had dinner with troops in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. Visiting troops became a tradition in the Bush family. Years later, the visits continued with George H.W. Bush’s son.
Next: Surprise visits were this president’s specialty.
George W. Bush
George W. Bush visited troops on Thanksgiving in the same fashion as his father. Throughout his presidency, he visited troops 4 times, CNN says. In 2003, he surprised troops in Iraq on Thanksgiving Day. There he gave a speech to troops publicized by the media after he left Iraq for his safety.
Next: This president watches movies with his family on Thanksgiving.
George W. Bush con.
Another year during his presidency, George W. Bush celebrated Thanksgiving at Camp David. A number of presidents have opted to observe Thanksgiving at Camp David to give the Secret Service a break during the holidays. During their stay at Camp David, the Bush family and guests went for long walks and watched movies, the LA Times says. Bush himself spent much of the visit running the country, the LA Times added.
Next: Celebrating Thanksgiving more than once is this president’s style.
Bill Clinton celebrated Thanksgiving by preparing meals for the homeless in 1993 with first lady, Hillary Clinton, according to the Atlantic. Another year Bill, and daughter Chelsea, traveled to Yugoslavia. The pair celebrated Thanksgiving early, having dinner with a special task force, the Atlantic says.
Next: This president doesn’t eat turkey on Thanksgiving.
Bill Clinton con.
Bill Clinton tweeted a photo of his family celebrating Thanksgiving in 1994. Other photos show the family admiring their turkey dinner at Camp David. After his presidency, Bill Clinton drastically changed his diet. He eats vegan as much as he can. Clinton admitted to Rachael Ray he’s not perfect. He told Rachael he only took one bite of turkey on Thanksgiving, Poltico says.
Next: Serving those less fortunate is a tradition for this president.
Barack Obama and the first family distributed food for Thanksgiving to families at a Washington, D.C. food pantry in 2009. In 2012, the family participated in a service project at a local food bank, according to the Atlantic. The family manned tables and distributed Thanksgiving food staples. Continuing the spirit of giving, the family served veterans their Thanksgiving dinner in 2015, CNN says.
Next: Making his own tradition, this president spent Thanksgiving Day on the phone.
Obama started his own Thanksgiving in the White House when he took office. According to People magazine, every year on Thanksgiving he “makes nine phone calls to deployed service members.” Obama speaks to members from every branch of the military. Thanksgiving morning he makes his nine phone calls and thanks each person for their service and sacrifice.
Next: Saving a turkey from the dinner table was the tradition this president began.
John F. Kennedy
Days before his assassination, Kennedy made history at the White House. According to Time, Kennedy was the first president to unofficially pardon a turkey. He unofficially pardoned a turkey saying, “we’ll just let this one grow,” Time says. Official pardons didn’t come until years later.
Next: The fact that we all celebrate Thanksgiving is thanks to this president.
Washington issued a Thanksgiving proclamation, according to Mount Vernon’s records. On Oct. 3, 1789, Washington issued the proclamation declaring Thursday, November 26 a “national day of thanks.” The day was meant to “recognize the role of providence in creating the new United States and the new federal Constitution,” according to Mount Vernon.
Next: Winner for the most unusual Thanksgiving dinner goes to this president.
William H. Taft
Taft celebrated Thanksgiving unlike any other U.S. president. His Thanksgiving dinner choice can only be explained by unique tastes in food. For Thanksgiving at the White House in 1909, possum was served. And not just any possum. A 26 pound Georgia possum, according to CNN. The Atlantic says eating possum was normal for the time period.
Next: This president made Thanksgiving an official holiday.
On Oct. 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation announcing the U.S. would celebrate Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, 1863. Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday, according to The History Channel. Although George Washington declared a day of thanks nearly a century before, the holiday wasn’t an annual event.
Next: Turkeys ruffle their feathers around this president.
Time says Ronald Reagan was the first president to officially pardon a turkey. He used the word “pardon” in 1987, according to Time. Reagan’s history with Thanksgiving turkeys has been flighty. On multiple occasions, turkeys have flapped their wings near the president.
Next: This president received a turkey as a gift every year from a farmer.
Ulysses S. Grant
Horace Vose, a Rhode Island poultry dealer, sent Thanksgiving turkeys to presidents every year, according to the History Channel. Vose first began sending turkeys to Ulysses S. Grant. Grant started a holiday tradition of his own that’s now a Thanksgiving staple. According to Westchester magazine, Grant served his troops cranberry sauce at the Siege of Petersburg.
Next: Giving a nod to the poultry industry was established as a result of a rationing effort instituted by this president.
Harry S. Truman
The Poultry and Egg National Board along with the National Turkey Federation sent Harry S. Truman turkeys beginning in 1947, according to the White House Historical Association. Americans sent crates of live chickens to the White House to protest the “poultryless Thursdays” initiative encouraged by the government. In December 1947, a turkey was presented to Truman, highlighting the poultry industry that “established an annual news niche that endures today,” the White House Historical Association says.
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