Thanksgiving Political Trivia to Chew On – “Sunday Political Brunch” - December 1, 2019


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – We have a lot of food to chew on this Thanksgiving weekend, so why not some political trivia to chew on as well! It’s one of our holidays that is steeped in politics, so let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Lincoln was Thinkin’ Thanks!” – President Abraham Lincoln is remembered for so many different and historic things, but I bet most folks don’t know that he was the one who declared Thanksgiving to be a national holiday in 1863, celebrated on the final Thursday of November. Lincoln did not actually pardon a turkey he was given for the White House dinner. Instead he gave the big bird to his son as a pet, and it never wound up on the dinner table!

“He Stole Our Idea!” – To be sure, previous presidents called from time to time for a national day of thanksgiving. George Washington was the first in in 1777, asking for a day of thanksgiving for the passage of the U.S. Constitution, and the end to the Revolutionary War. But it was a sporadic occasion that occurred now and then, not annually.

“Hold on a Second!” – Thomas Jefferson opposed any type of thanksgiving declaration, because he felt it was signaling a religious celebration. Jefferson was the founding father who was most adamant about the separation of church and state, so he viewed any national endorsement of such a holiday with disdain. Fast forward to today, and I think common sense tells us that people can be thankful for many things, without necessarily extending it to a religious experience. To others, thanksgiving is a profound expression of one’s faith. My point is, it’s a matter of choice and expression. Not everyone feels or experiences thanks in the same way.

“Pardon Me, Sir!” – This year President Trump pardoned two turkeys named, “Bread” and “Butter.” In the modern era, the pardon has become an annual ritual, but who started it? Technically, President Kennedy issued the first pardon of a turkey in 1963. But it didn’t become an actual annual rite of passage until President George H.W. Bush did it on 1989, and all his successors followed suit. Before this tradition began, farmers would donate turkeys to the White House, with the intent they be butchered, cooked, and eaten, and they were!

“I Just Yoking!” – The annual turkey pardon has turned our presidents into “wannabee” stand-up comics. The event has evolved into one of humor and political barbs. Trump even used the occasion to poke fun at his impeachment inquiry. In pardoning Bread and Butter, Trump advised them "to remain calm under any condition, which will be very important because they have already received subpoenas to appear in Adam Schiff's basement." Trump even skewered some of the impeachment witnesses whom he compared to Bread and Butter by saying, "Unlike previous witnesses, you and I have actually met. It's very unusual." Gallows humor? Maybe!

“FDR’s ‘Black Friday’” – One of my favorite bits of political trivia involves President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and his concern over Christmas shopping season. Roosevelt believed that the late Thanksgiving holiday was hurting Christmas sales, so he moved it from the last Thursday in November, to the third Thursday. The public was furious and only about half the states complied. In 1941, Congress officially moved the day back to November’s final Thursday. Given today’s madness over Black Friday shopping, you get the sense that Roosevelt was trying to create a solution for a problem that didn’t exist.

“It’s All in the Name!” Okay, I love that this year’s pardoned turkeys were Bread and Butter. Last year they were Peas and Carrots. President Obama pardoned a turkey named Courage, as well as Gobbler and Cobbler. President George W. Bush pardoned Liberty and Freedom in 2001, just weeks after the 9/11 attacks. In 2004, he pardoned my favorites, Biscuits and Gravy. President Clinton pardoned Harry the Turkey, and Jerry the Turkey. President Obama also had Mac and Cheese one year, and Tater and Tot, his last year. It’s all in good fun!

We’ll get back to serious politics next week, but tell me, what’s your favorite Thanksgiving side dish? Mine is the stuffing!!! Let us know by clicking the comment button!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states and much of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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