WASHINGTON (UPI) -- President Bush opened the holiday season Friday by signing a proclamation designating Nov. 23 as the National Day of Thanksgiving Day and giving a presidential pardon to a 50-pound turkey.
At a Rose Garden ceremony, the white 28-year-old turkey interrupted Bush's remarks with gobbling sounds.
The president laughed and admonished: "Come on now, this is serious stuff."
Bush said the turkey, a gift of the National Turkey Federation, was "understandably nervous" but he assured the flapping white-feathered bird that his spaniel "Millie" was upstairs in the family quarters.
The turkey was formally presented by federation President John Wickliffe of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and his wife.
Bush said:' 'He will not wind up on any dinner table. He's been granted a presidential pardon."
The turkey will be taken to a nearby Virginia petting farm.
Bush gave a preview by stroking the turkey, which remained calm after spraying white feathers in the face of Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yuetter.
"Let this holiday remind us as we gather with family and friends of the less fortunate" and the need "for giving to others," Bush said.
Wickliffe told Bush that "this live bird represents the spirit and tradition of the Thanksgiving celebration handed down by our forefathers. This bird weighs 50 pounds, one for every stale in the union."
"It's important for all Americans to take time to reflect on all the blessings that have been bestowed on this country," he said.
The federation said 45 million turkeys will be consumed on Thanksgiving Day.