The White House announces the name of the National Thanksgiving Turkey and its alternate, chosen from suggestions by the public. In recent years, a White House social media campaign has engaged the public to vote on which turkey should be the alternate and which should be presented as the National Thanksgiving Turkey. The final choice is made known by the president during the ceremony.
The custom of "pardoning" the National Thanksgiving Turkey began in 1989 with President George H.W. Bush. It was the 200th anniversary of President George Washington's Proclamation of a Day of Thanksgiving. School children were in attendance and the turkey was quite active.
“Our special guest seems . . . understandably nervous,” President Bush said, “but let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy. He’s granted a Presidential pardon as of right now.”