Washington — It’s vacation time in the White House.
After aand the president’s 80th birthday, the White House ushered in the holiday season Monday with the annual pardon of Thanksgiving turkeys, the arrival of the official Christmas tree and the serving of a Thanksgiving-style dinner at a military base.
The burst of holiday activity at the White House follows a busy weekend for President Biden and his family and comes after the midterm elections earlier this month, in which the president’s Democratic Party did better than expected. Democrats retained control of the Senate, and although the House of Representatives will transition to Republican control in January, GOP gains in that chamber have been kept to a minimum.
Mr Biden and his wife Jill are leaving Washington on Tuesday for their family tradition of spending Thanksgiving on the island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. They hosted their granddaughter Naomi Biden’s wedding at the White House on Saturday, followed by a brunch celebrating the president’s 80th birthday on Sunday.
For the second time, Mr. Biden played his part in the 75-year tradition of issuing a coveted presidential pardon to keep a pair of turkeys off the celebratory dinner table.
“The votes have been in, they’ve been counted and verified,” Mr. Biden said as he greeted the turkeys with customary papa humor in front of a crowd of hundreds on the South Lawn. “There is no ballot filling. There is no poultry game. The only red wave this season will be when the German Shepard Commander knocks over the cranberry sauce on our table.”
He ended on a solemn note, encouraging Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccines before the holiday season and think about it and “be thankful for what we have.”
“This is a special time in the greatest nation on earth, so let’s be thankful,” Biden said.
Gobblers Chocolate and Chip, each weighing nearly 50 pounds, arrived in Washington Saturday night from North Carolina and checked into their room at the Willard Hotel near the White House to await Monday’s presidential decree.
The combination of chocolate and chips is also Mr. Biden’s favorite flavor of ice cream.
The birds were hatched in Monroe, North Carolina in July, according to the National Turkey Federation, sponsor of the turkey tradition that dates back to 1947, and President Harry Truman.
Mr. Biden named Chocolate the winner, with Chip as a backup. They were to spend the rest of their natural lives on the North Carolina State University campus.
Jill Biden also did her part to ring in the holidays by accepting delivery of the official White House Christmas tree. The 18-foot-tall Concolor fir, which grew on a farm in Pennsylvania, the state where the First Lady grew up, will fill the Blue Room after a chandelier was temporarily removed to allow the tree to be anchored for safety .
Volunteer decorators arrived at the White House Monday to spruce it up for Christmas, in accordance with a theme First Ladies traditionally unveil after Thanksgiving.
Paul and Sharon Shealer of Auburn, Pennsylvania were crowned this year’s Grand Champion Growers at the National Christmas Tree Association’s National Christmas Tree Competition. With the award, the winner gets to present a Christmas tree to the White House.
This is the second time the Shealers have donated a Christmas tree to the White House. They first claimed the association’s top honor in 2000, presenting a tree to First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Later Monday, Mr. Biden and his wife traveled to Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point near the North Carolina coast to attend Friendsgiving or to share a Thanksgiving meal with members of the military and their families.
The First Lady leads a White House initiative called Joining Forces to support and empower the sacrifices and needs of military families. The president has pushed for and signed several laws to help soldiers and veterans, including legislation to expand health care for those exposed to toxins from waste incineration in Iraq or Afghanistan or chemicals used in previous conflicts.
The Bidens’ late son Beau served in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a tour of Iraq, before dying of brain cancer in 2015.