Turkeys voting for Christmas

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Turkeys voting for Christmas is an English idiom used as a metaphor or simile (in the construct "like turkeys voting for Christmas") in reference to an apparently suicidal ("death-wish"[1]) choice, especially a political vote against one's self-interest. In modern times, in the United Kingdom, turkeys are commonly eaten as part of the English Christmas dinner. Since 1573 they have been available in the UK at Christmas.[2]

The Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations writes that a commentator in the Independent Magazine traced the origin of the phrase to British Liberal Party politician David Penhaligon,[1] who is quoted as saying: "Us voting for the Pact is like a turkey voting for Christmas" in reference to the 1977 Lib-Lab Pact which he opposed.[3]

The phrase was soon borrowed by other politicians and public figures.[1] In 1979 Labour Prime Minister James Callaghan was faced with a vote of no confidence called by Scottish nationalists, who were upset with Labour's treatment of a recent Scottish devolution referendum. In the resulting vote the Scottish nationalists sided with the Conservative opposition against the Labour government, despite the fact that the Conservatives opposed devolution. During his speech, Callaghan stated that "If they win, there will be a general election. I am told that the current joke going around the House is that it is the first time in recorded history that turkeys have been known to vote for an early Christmas." The Scottish National Party ultimately lost most of its representation in the resulting election.

in 2000 British MP Teresa Gorman, who opposed the Maastricht Treaty, stated; "If the House of Commons voted for Maastricht it would be like 651 turkeys voting for Christmas."[4]

A prominent anecdotal example was displayed in the UK in 2016, whereby areas which were net beneficiaries of EU subsidies voted by a majority to leave the EU and then campaigned to preserve their EU funding afterwards: for example, Cornwall.[5]

In the United States, the phrases "turkeys voting for Thanksgiving" (that being the holiday when turkey is more commonly served) and "chickens voting for Colonel Sanders" are often used. In Canada, the story of Mouseland has mice voting for cats.

A similar German idiom is "Only the most stupid calves would vote for their butchers" ("Nur die dümmsten Kälber wählen ihre Metzger selber"). Bertold Brecht alluded to it in his Kälbermarsch ("March of the calves", 1933), a parody of the Nazi anthem "Horst Wessel Song", which was included in his play Schweik in the Second World War (1943). A similar photomontage of John Heartfield shows Hitler as a butcher with a chicken and the caption "Don't panic! He's a vegetarian."[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Oxford Dictionary of Humorous Quotations", by Ned Sherrin, Oxford University Press, Edition 4, 2008, ISBN 0-19-923716-6, "Introduction to the first edition"
  2. ^ John Harland (1858). The house and farm accounts of the Shuttleworths of Gawthorpe Hall in the county of Lancaster at Smithils and Gawthorpe: from September 1582 to October 1621. p.1059. Chetham society,
  3. ^ "The pact: the inside story of the Lib-Lab government, 1977-8", by Alistair Michie, Simon Hoggart, Quartet Books, 1978, p. 156
  4. ^ "Billericay: The Dame who didn't give a damn...", Daily Gazette, 18 February 2000[dead link]
  5. ^ "Cornwall issues plea to keep EU funding after voting for Brexit" Archived 9 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine, Independent, 24 June 2016
  6. ^ Max Nyffeler: Kälbermarsch Archived 23 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine. In: nmz - neue musikzeitung. 9/2005