Greetings, and Happy Easter weekend. However you spend the holiday, I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did creating the whimsical photos in this post: “Rabbits ride the teacups” (above) and the minimalist egg series you’ll find below.
Rabbits, the Easter Bunny and colorful decorated eggs are an Easter tradition worldwide, with many variations. Here in the United States, there is even an annual Easter egg roll on the White House Lawn, hosted by the president and first lady.
The event, traditionally held on Easter Monday, marks its 141-year anniversary this year and has a fascinating history. Here is a brief look at how it began and its evolution through changing times:
According to the White House Historical Association, Washington, D.C. residents celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol beginning in the 1870s. As part of the festivities, children rolled dyed hard-cooked eggs down the terraced lawn.
By 1876, landscape concerns led Congress to pass legislation restricting public use of the Capitol grounds, which effectively proscribed future egg rolling there. However, in 1878, a group of children seeking a new venue for their egg rolling games marched to the White House, hoping they’d be allowed to use the hilly South Lawn. President Rutherford B. Hayes let them through the gates, and thus began the official event.
An Increasingly Popular Public Event
The egg rollers’ move from Capitol grounds to White House lawn was a very popular change, and the event began to attract more and more people. A series of newspaper articles cited by The White House Historical Association indicates the large turnouts: By 1911, attendance is estimated at 10,000 to 30,000 in different years, “depending on the weather”; in 1927, 30,000 children were rolling eggs; a 1940 article reports that record attendance to date was 53,180 in 1937.
Racketeering Rascals Busted
As the event attracted larger crowds, a rule was set to limit the number of people entering the South Lawn: a “grown person” would be admitted only when accompanied by a child, and vice versa. In response, lone children and adults started teaming up to gain admission. Some enterprising young rascals (imagine Spanky, Alfalfa and the gang) even charged a fee to get a succession of adults past the security guards. According to a 1939 newspaper report, the practice became so scandalous that Secret Service men were stationed at the White House gates to “break up the kids’ rackets.”
What Is Egg Rolling Anyway?
From its inception, egg rolling has been the event’s primary activity: Children rolled colored hard-boiled eggs across the grass to see whose could travel farthest before cracking. In the early years, other egg games –– such as catch and toss and egg croquet –– were also played.
In 1974, Richard and Pat Nixon introduced egg roll races, which have become one of the day’s favorite activities. The Easter egg hunt is also a staple of the event.
Each First Family Adds Its Own Spin
Through the years, each First Family has put its own spin on the event. That’s part of the tradition. Some notable examples in addition to the egg races:
In 1969, one of first lady Pat Nixon’s staffers dressed up in a fleecy white rabbit costume, and the White House Easter Bunny was born. Since then, the bunny is always a member of the administrative staff.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy were the first to use wooden eggs for the Easter egg hunt. Wooden eggs later became the official White House Egg Roll keepsake. The Reagan eggs were signed by famous people. Now this keepsake is inscribed with the signatures of the president and first lady. Designed to reflect the current year’s theme, it’s given to each child under the age of 12.
Have you attended the White House Easter Egg Roll as a D.C. resident or visitor? What is your personal Easter tradition? Please leave a comment.
Information for this post was derived from the White House Historical Association website: https://www.whitehousehistory.org/collections/white-house-easter-egg-roll
For more about the White House Easter Egg Roll, including interesting photos of the event through the years, the site is an excellent resource.
Copyright M. Vincent 2019. All photographs copyright M. Vincent 2019.