Off to hobnob with Donald Duck. (Getty Images)

The tradition of the presidential turkey pardon has continued to evolve in surprising ways. In the early years the exonerated gobblers were sent to Kidwell Farm, a petting zoo in northern Virginia where, as turkey rock stars, they lived a life featuring excessive drug use and media attention but only the brief fame their overbred and steroid-addled condition would allow. Since 2005, however, the ritual has become more surreal: the pardoned bird is now immediately flown to Disneyland or Disney World, where it serves as grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day parade at the creepily self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth.”

And if the idea of Americans spending their Thanksgiving holiday at a theme park watching a fat bird lead a Mickey Mouse parade seems depressing, it is encouraging to note that the birds are flown to their new posts first class, so while in transit they enjoy a comfortably wide seat and a lot of free gin-and-tonics.

A Disney spokeswoman writes via e-mail that their partnership with the the National Turkey Federation ended in 2009. So where do turkeys go now, if not the Magic Kingdom? Last year’s turkeys died within a year of being spared the ax. (As ABC notes, the birds are “bred to be overweight and often suffer from heart disease.”) This year, the producers of Wild Turkey Bourbon in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, want to offer the lucky du— er, turkeys a chance to be the company’s official spokesfowl.

Branch also includes this timeless quip from Barack Obama: “There are certain days that remind me of why I ran for this office. And then there are moments like this, where I pardon a turkey and send it to Disneyland.”

And just to make sure this blog doesn’t stray too far from economics and the like, check out Matt Yglesias’s piece in Slate today on Thanksgiving retail strategies and turkey’s “lost decade.”

Update: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that, since 2009, pardoned turkeys no longer head to Disneyland.