I want to thank the National Turkey Federation for once again donating this year's Tom turkey. This the eighth I've had the privilege to meet and set free in the Rose Garden. I'm told that Jerry the turkey traveled all the way here from Wisconsin, proving that the cheese state is about more than good cheese. It's also, I might add, about a very well-behaved turkey.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate the first Thanksgiving of the new millennium and the last one of our presidency. As Hillary and Chelsea and I sit down to our dinner, we will give special thanks for the privilege it has been to live here and to serve for the last eight years.
It's still a bit of a mystery when exactly the first Thanksgiving was actually held. Some say it was in 1513 when Ponce de Leon landed in Florida, but the expert opinions about that are divided and a recount is still under way down there. Others say it occurred in 1541 when Francisco Vázquez de Coronado arrived on the Texas panhandle. Some conspiracy theorists say neither of those are true.
The most popular story, of course, and the one all of us learned as kids, is that Native Americans and pilgrims shared a feast of thanks to celebrate their first harvest in 1621, soon after the pilgrims arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was a famous meal of mace, squash and venison and lasted three whole days. Now, that would take a lot of turkey.
But no matter what its roots, Thanksgiving is a tradition that has been celebrated in this country since our beginning. George Washington was the first president to declare a national day of thanks in 1789. And Abraham Lincoln made the tradition a permanent one in 1863, in the darkest days of the Civil War, because he recognized, as he put it, "the blessings of fruitful years and helpful skies."
The times have changed but the message hasn't, to give thanks for all God's blessings for our strong families, our spirited communities and the good fortune of living in our country's most prosperous and peaceful time.
I am profoundly grateful on this Thanksgiving that we have now more than 22 million new jobs, poverty and unemployment at record lows, and the highest homeownership in history. The American people worked hard for these results and I hope they are thankful for them as well.
We should also be grateful for the strength of our democracy and the freedom we enjoy. Thanks to the courage and patriotism of our men and women in uniform, and the strength and abiding power of the Constitution and the rule of law.
As we gather around our dinner tables with family and friends and celebrate our great bounty, we must not forget also those who will be hungry this holiday season. That's why it is so important that all Americans, like the young people here today, not only give thanks but give something back to their communities to help those who are less fortunate than themselves.
Almost 50 years ago, Harry Truman began the tradition of keeping at least one turkey off the Thanksgiving dinner table. And I am very pleased to follow in his footsteps and to hereby officially pardon this turkey in order that he be sent to the petting zoo in Fairfax County, Virginia, to live his remaining days in peace and happiness, making children happier if not more peaceful.
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.