Gobble Gobble: Meet Popcorn & Caramel

popcorn and caramel, national thanksgiving turkeysPopcorn and Caramel are turkeys. But not just any regular turkeys. Turkeys who get to stay at the fabulous Willard Intercontinental Hotel and meet the president of the United States. Well, technically, they are both staying at the Willard, but only one will meet Barack Obama 😉 Both will be pardoned though, and will spend the holiday season at Mount Vernon estate. They will also both get to live out their (potentially short) lives at Morven Park in Virginia. They’re part of a very American Thanksgiving tradition I learned a lot about today: the pardoning of the National Thanksgiving Turkey.


John Burkel, his wife Joni and their five children introduced Popcorn and Caramel at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel ahead of Wednesday's pardoning ceremony.

John Burkel, his wife Joni and their five children introduced Popcorn and Caramel at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel ahead of Wednesday’s pardoning ceremony.


This tradition was officially started 24 years ago by George H. W. Bush, though the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation first presented a National Thanksgiving Turkey to president Harry S. Truman back in 1947. Also, Ronald Reagan may technically have been the first president to actually pardon a turkey (in a wink to Oliver North) though he didn’t officialize it. Before Bush made the pardon an official celebration, some of the birds ended up as main course in the White House apparently…

Popcorn and Caramel hail from Minnesota, the home state of the current chairman of the National Turkey Federation, John Burkel. Some twenty white male poults (that would be a young fowl… learned that word today) were picked out a bunch and trained to handle loud noise, large crowds and lots of flashes from cameras. Crowds like these:

Smize Popcorn… the camera loves you Caramel…


The top performing turkey make the journey to Washington, DC. But of course, this is 2013 so there’s a people slash social media element to it. First, the people of Minnesota got to submit and vote on their names…  “Viking & Gunnar” came in first place (oh… Minnesota! I love you. I really do actually…) but the White House had to the ultimate say and opted for Popcorn and Caramel instead. And now, the people get to vote on which one of the two gets pardoned:

turkey pardon, obama, popcorn and caramel, presidential pardon turkey, thanksgiving traditions


For the record, I’m #teampopcorn. Not because I like Beyonce more than Lady Gaga or because the young Tom Turkey made a better impression on me this morning when I “met” them both at a press event at the Willard. Mainly because I can’t really pronounce caramel properly. Why is the second A silent? It makes no sense to me. Caramel should be pronounced KA-RA-mel not CAR-mel 😉 So good luck to you Popcorn! And Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

ps – in addition to learned a few new words, I also learned that 46 million turkeys will be eaten at Thanksgiving (and 22 million more at Christmas…). That’s a lot of turkeys… Popcorn and Caramel are definitely two lucky turkeys. Oh, and that I don’t have a future as an animal photographer…

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