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Biden opens holidays, pardons turkeys Chocolate and Chip

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s holiday time at the White House.

After a rare wedding and the president’s milestone 80th birthday, the White House on Monday plunged into the holiday season with the annual pardoning of a Thanksgiving turkey, the arrival of the official Christmas tree and serving up a Thanksgiving-style dinner on a military base.

The burst of holiday activity at the White House follows a busy weekend personally for President Joe Biden and his family and comes after midterm elections earlier this month that saw the president’s Democratic Party perform better than expected. Democrats kept control of the Senate and although the House will shift to Republican control come January, GOP gains in that chamber were held to a minimum.

Biden and his wife, Jill, leave Washington on Tuesday for their family tradition of spending Thanksgiving on the Massachusetts island of Nantucket. They hosted the wedding of their granddaughter, Naomi Biden, at the White House on Saturday, followed by a brunch for the president’s 80th birthday on Sunday.

For the second time, Biden played his part in the 75-year tradition of issuing a coveted presidential pardon to keep a pair of turkeys off the holiday dinner table.

“The votes are in, they’ve been counted and verified,” Biden said as he welcomed the turkeys before a crowd of hundreds on the South Lawn with the usual dad humor. “There’s no ballot stuffing. There’s no fowl play. The only red wave this season’s gonna be if German Shepard Commander knocks over the cranberry sauce on our table.“

He concluded on a serious note, encouraging Americans to get their COVID-19 vaccines ahead of the holiday season and to reflect and “be grateful 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 (22.68 kilograms), arrived in Washington on 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 chip also happens to be Biden’s favorite flavor of ice cream.

The birds were hatched in July in Monroe, North Carolina, according to the National Turkey Federation, sponsor of the turkey tradition that dates to 1947 and President Harry Truman.

Biden named Chocolate the winner, with Chip as his backup. They were set to live the rest of their natural lives on the campus of North Carolina State University.

Jill Biden also was doing her part to help usher in the holidays by accepting delivery of the official White House Christmas tree. The 18 foot- (5.5 meters) -tall Concolor fir grown on a farm in Pennsylvania, the state where the first lady grew up, will fill up the Blue Room after a chandelier is temporarily removed so the tree can be anchored in place for safety.

Volunteer decorators began arriving at the White House on Monday to start sprucing it up for Christmas, according to a theme first ladies traditionally reveal after Thanksgiving.

Paul and Sharon Shealer of Auburn, Pennsylvania, were crowned this year’s Grand Champion Grower in the National Christmas Tree Association’s National Christmas tree contest. With the award, the winner gets to present a Christmas tree to the White House.

It’s the second time that the Shealers have donated a Christmas tree to the White House. They first claimed the association’s top honor in 2000 and presented a tree to first lady Hillary Clinton.

Later Monday, Biden and his wife were traveling to Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point near the North Carolina coast to participate in Friendsgiving, or sharing a Thanksgiving-style meal with members of the military and their families.

The first lady leads a White House initiative named Joining Forces to support and promote the sacrifices and needs of military families. The president has pushed for and has signed several bills to help service members and veterans, including legislation expanding health care for those who were exposed to toxins from the burning of waste in Iraq or Afghanistan, or to chemicals that were used in previous conflicts.

The Bidens’ late son Beau served in the Delaware Army National Guard, including a tour in Iraq, before he died of brain cancer in 2015.

Darlene Superville, The Associated Press