President Obama pardoned a couple of turkeys at the White House Wednesday; not the convicted, political kind, but actual turkeys.

It's a duty that has come with the office since 1989 when President George H.W. Bush began the tradition.

The National Thanksgiving Turkey has been presented intermittently to commanders-in-chief since the days of Abraham Lincoln. Although some say Harry Truman was the first to actually pardon the turkey, archival records dispute that.

Whatever the case, this year, in a sunny Rose Garden ceremony worthy of a world leader and busting at the seams with onlookers, Mr. Obama continued the practice.

He began with a solemn reminder of the task at hand.

"Before everybody heads home for Thanksgiving, there is one official duty I am sworn to uphold as the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. Today, I have the awesome responsibility of granting a presidential pardon to a pair of turkeys," he said flanked by his two young daughters Sasha and Malia.

"Now, for the record, let me say that it feels pretty good to stop at least one shellacking this November," he joked, referencing the adjective he used to describe his party's losses in the midterm elections.

"Apple" and understudy-- yes, understudy-- "Cider" each weigh in at 45 pounds and are 21 weeks old. They arrived from Foster Farms Wellsford Ranch, near Modesto, California.

"Out of about 20,000 turkeys born at Foster Farms this summer, 25 were selected for a final competition that involved strutting their stuff before a panel of judges with an eclectic mix of music playing in the background," the president said to laughter.

The key ingredients for the two lucky birds are nearly the same as those for beauty pageants: looks and temperament.

The president thought of a different analogy, "It's kind of like a turkey version of Dancing With the Stars except the stakes for the contestants was much higher," he added, beaming at the punchline. "Only one pair would survive and win the big prize: life."

Cider took a cue from the "continuity of government" practice and stayed out of the limelight. Just as security concerns require one member of the administration to stay behind during the president's state of the union speech, Cider remained in an undisclosed location as Apple basked in the glory of the camera lights. Should Apple fall ill or, God forbid, bite someone, Cider was ready for her close up.

In the end, everything went smoothly and Cider's services were not needed.

And just as the word "pardon" left Mr. Obama's lips, Apple uttered one more gobble of relief.

So, what does a turkey do next? These two are not going to Disney World, but they are headed to George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens.

They will be on display for the public there during the Christmas season, then spend the rest of their lives in a custom-made enclosure at the estate's livestock facility.

After the pardoning, Mr. Obama gently rubbed Apple's head and could be heard faintly telling the bird, "Have a good life, man."