An iconic Washington, D.C., hotel used to hosting presidents and other dignitaries is getting ready to once again welcome some VIPs — though technically, hotel staff refers to them as VITs, as in “Very Important Turkeys.”
“It’s a fantastic tradition, it’s very exciting, we love it,” says Janet Scanlon, the Willard InterContinental‘s marketing director.
For the eleventh year, the Willard InterContinental will host the presidential flock – among them the one turkey the president will likely pardon at the White House Rose Garden in the days before Thanksgiving.
The National Thanksgiving Turkey presentation reportedly started with President Harry S. Truman in 1947, but it wasn’t until President George H.W. Bush in 1989 that a turkey was “pardoned.”
(Previous White House turkeys were … well, eaten.)
This year the turkeys will get even more special treatment in the days before arriving at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Not only will the turkeys stay in a specially equipped guest room at Willard InterContinental (hotel workers cover the floor with plastic and wood chips), the 42-lb. birds will also receive spa services to help them primp for the president.
“They’ll probably get some feather fluffing – like a haircut. Maybe a massage. They will be able to order room service and our chef is planning to cook up some special dishes for them as well,” Scanlon tells PEOPLE.
The hotel is also working on arranging more time for guests to interact with the turkeys at a special meet-and-greet.
“People love seeing them,” Scanlon says. “I took so many pictures last year when they were checking in, it was so cute! Usually guests only see them when the turkeys arrive and are in the lobby, but we want more guests to get that opportunity this year.”
The man who raised the broad-breasted white turkeys, Jeff Sveen, says the turkeys will love that. He tells PEOPLE that the birds are actually lap animals who love to be pet and have been raised just for this purpose.
“As soon as they’re born we watch their character, their personality and demeanor to see whether they’ll let you pet them … it’s somewhat of a beauty pageant as we pick the ones to bring with us,” he adds.
Sveen is the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation. Tradition says the federation chairman raises the presidential flock each year in his or her home state.
He started with 50 turkeys in July on a South Dakota farm and whittled the group down based on their comfort around adults and kids. Right now, the final group of about 10 turkeys is touring schools in their home state, getting used to crowds in preparation for the big day in D.C.
A few days before Thanksgiving, the chairman will personally drive the turkeys to D.C. — and bring his whole family to the White House for the actual pardoning ceremony.
“I think it’s cool, it’s really fun. With all the unhappiness with the government — this is a fun day,” he says.
After their official duties are done, the Very Important Turkeys will head to Gobblers Rest, a special facility at Virginia Tech, where they will spend the rest of their lives.