Washington DC Thanksgiving: Proclomations, Pardons and White House Recipes

The event that some Americans commonly call the “First Thanksgiving” was celebrated by Washington DC Thanksgivingthe Pilgrims after their first harvest in the New World in 1621. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days, and was attended by 53 Pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The New England colonists were accustomed to regularly celebrating “thanksgivings”—days of prayer thanking God for blessings such as military victory or the end of a drought.

Lincoln Proclaims Official Thanksgiving Holiday

Expressing gratitude for a pivotal Union Army victory at Gettysburg, President Abraham Lincoln announces that the nation will celebrate an official Thanksgiving holiday on November 26, 1863. The speech, which was actually written by Secretary of State William Seward, declared that the fourth Thursday of every November thereafter would be considered an official U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving. This announcement harkened back to when George Washington was in his first term as the first president in 1789 and the young American nation had only a few years earlier emerged from the American Revolution. At that time, George Washington called for an official celebratory “day of public thanksgiving and prayer.” While Congress overwhelmingly agreed to Washington’s suggestion, the holiday did not yet become an annual event.

Presidential Turkey Pardon

washington dc ThanksgivingPresidents have accepted thanksgiving turkeys since 1947 and since 1989 have actually “pardoned” those turkeys. Each year, a few days before Thanksgiving, the President of the United States formally pardons a live turkey presented to him by the National Turkey Federation.

Since 1989, the tradition has been cemented and the president has pardoned a turkey (and its alternate) each year. Until 2004, the spared turkeys were sent to Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo at Frying Pan Park in Virginia, where they lived out the rest of their lives in the Turkey Barn. From 2005 to 2009, the turkeys went to either Disneyland in California or Disney World in Florida, where they served as honorary grand marshals in Disney’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and then retired to Disneyland’s Big Thunder Ranch.
In 2010, Disney stopped taking pardoned turkeys and President Obama’s birds were sent to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia.

Traditional Thanksgiving Dinners

Perhaps you can’t eat your Thanksgiving dinner with President and Mrs. Obama, but you can eat some of what will grace their holiday table.

White House Turkey Gravy

This gravy is meant to accompany the White House Thyme-Roasted Turkey, but it would go well with just about any roasted turkey. Don’t skip the step of adding the turkey pan drippings to the gravy: They will lend a deeper flavor and and add color.


  • 2 pounds turkey wings and/or neck bones, plus the contents of the turkey’s giblet packet, excluding the liver
  • 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
  • 3 medium carrots, cut into large dice (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
  • 3 ribs celery, cut into 1-inch lengths (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 cup sherry
  • 8 cups water


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Roast the turkey wings, bones and/or giblets in a single layer in a small roasting pan. When they have begun to brown nicely, after 20 to 30 minutes, add the onions, carrots, garlic, celery, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns, and roast for 10 minutes.

Transfer the roasting pan to the stove top over medium-high heat (using one or two burners, depending on the size of your pan). Add the flour and stir to coat the contents of the pan. Pour in the sherry and use a flat wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Scrape the contents of the pan into a large saucepan.

Add the water and bring it just to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat so that it is barely bubbling. Cook uncovered for about 1 hour, until the liquid has thickened somewhat. Cover the pan and keep it warm.

Scrape any drippings from the turkey roasting pan into the saucepan and stir to combine. Pour the gravy through a strainer into a bowl or gravy separator and discard the solids left in the strainer. Skim the fat from the surface of the gravy or use the gravy separator to remove the fat. Transfer to a gravy boat or other serving vessel.

Recipe Source:

Adapted from White House executive chef Cristeta Comerford.

If you can’t make it home for Thanksgiving, or visiting family or friends brings you to the Washington DC area, here are our top picks for Thanksgiving dining. We suggest making a reservation early!

Liberty Tavern -Brunch Menu

Thanksgiving finds this brunch spot offering its usual menu as well as a turkey carving station and all the traditional fixins’ such as sweet potatoes with marshmallows.

Price: $29 for adults; $18 for kids Seating: 9:30 to 4 Reservations: Call 202-386-9200 or visit Open Table.

Lincoln – Three-course menu

Farm-to-table is the emphasis of this Thanksgiving menu, which has three carved entrée options and sides such as green beans with a maple glaze and crispy onions, or butternut squash soup with hazelnut doughnuts for dunking.

Price: $58 for adults; $21 for kids -Seating: 2 to 8 -Reservations: Call 202-386-9200 or visit Open Table.

The Oval Room – Three-Course Menu

Inventive takes on Thanksgiving classics include a salad of autumn veggies with cider dressing and smoked bacon, and ginger-cracklins’-dressed curried lobster. Finish the evening with chef Tony Conte’s version of a PB&J—peanut butter mousse with Concord grape sorbet.

Price: $50 per person -Seating: Noon to 8 -Reservations: Call 202-463-8700 or visit Open Table.

From our family to yours, we wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving!


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