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Obama pardons two turkeys at White House ceremony

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Obama saves turkeys from dinner death
  • The president celebrates the 63rd anniversary of national Thanksgiving turkey presentation
  • The California-born turkeys being pardoned are 21 weeks old and weigh 45 pounds each
  • Former President George H.W. Bush granted the first turkey pardon in 1989

Washington (CNN) -- At 21 weeks of age and 45 pounds each, Apple and Cider would normally be prime candidates for Thanksgiving dinner this year.

Instead, the two California-born turkeys got a new lease on life Wednesday when President Obama pardoned them in a Rose Garden ceremony at the White House.

"Now for the record, let me say that I feel pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November," said Obama, referring to the staggering defeat his party suffered in congressional elections this month.

Obama celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the national Thanksgiving turkey presentation by sparing the two birds. Their names were chosen from more than 200 suggestions by California schoolchildren, a White House statement said.

Apple was designated the official national Thanksgiving turkey, and Cider was the alternate.

Obama said the turkeys were among 20,000 born at a Modesto farm last summer chosen to "strut their stuff" in a competition for the presidential pardon.

"It's like a turkey version of 'Dancing with the Stars,' " the president said. "Except the stakes for the contestants were much higher. Only one pair win the prize: life, and an all-expenses trip to Washington."

Two turkeys that "didn't quite make the cut" were delivered to Martha's Table, a local nonprofit organization that serves homeless children and their families, the president said.

Having escaped execution, the two birds will head to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens for a Christmas display and then live out their days in a specially built enclosure, the White House statement said.

While the tradition of the president receiving a national Thanksgiving turkey began with Harry Truman in 1947, the first official presidential turkey pardon was given in 1989 by George H.W. Bush.