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US: The White House Easter Egg Roll's storied history, explained

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After two years of virtual Easter celebrations, the White House on Monday will open its gates to children once again to participate in one of its longest traditions, the White House Easter Egg Roll.

This year's events, themed "EGGucation" by First Lady Jill Biden, include the egg roll, an egg hunt and a number of performances and educational activities. The White House estimates roughly 30,000 people, including thousands of military families, will be in attendance.

The history of the White House's Easter Monday Egg Roll is storied, dating back to the 19th century. Here's everything you need to know about the annual tradition.

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The first Easter Egg Roll

Washingtonians used to celebrate Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol, where children would gather to roll brightly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the lawn with spoons, according to the White House Historical Association.

But by 1876, members of Congress became concerned that the yearly ruckus might damage the landscape. So, in a move as hard-boiled as the children's eggs, Congress voted to restrict public use of its grounds. The bill was passed into law on April 29, 1876 and effectively banned future egg rolling at the Capitol.

The next year, Easter festivities were rained out. However, in 1878, a "group of bold children" lobbied President Rutherford B. Hayes to allow them to play their egg-rolling games on the White House's lawn. Hayes obliged, and thus began the tradition that still exists today

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Easter Egg Rolls throughout the years

The White House has hardly skipped an annual Easter Monday Egg Roll since.

Egg roll receptions became customary after a group of egg rollers strode into the East Room in 1885 with hopes of being received by President Grover Cleveland. He was "charmed," White House archives say, and made presidential appearances a more frequent addition to the day's events

Four years later, President Benjamin Harrison added music to the occasion, soliciting a performance by the U.S. Marine Band, led by John Philip Sousa.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual Easter games, held on the White House South Lawn, had only been cancelled during the two World Wars, according to the Washington Post.

In 1918, in announcing wartime food restrictions, District of Columbia food administrator Charles Wilson asserted that “nothing that is an article of diet should be destroyed." The destruction of eggs was prohibited, and thus, the Egg Roll was cancelled.

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The festivities returned in 1921, and between 50,000 to 60,000 children participated. First Lady Florence Harding reportedly dyed the eggs herself using the "good old-fashioned method of wrapping them in gaily-printed calico," the Washington Post wrote in 1921.

World War II prevented Egg Rolls from 1943 to 1945, and both food conservation and construction stopped the celebrations from 1946 to 1952, according to White House archives. President Dwight D. Eisenhower picked up the torch, reinstating the tradition in 1953.

The Nixons launched a number of White House Easter Egg Roll traditions that remain in place today.

In 1969, a staffer for First Lady Pat Nixon donned a white jumpsuit and Peter Rabbit mask and shook the hands of participating children. They became the first official White House Easter Bunny, now a quintessential attendee of the annual event.

The Nixons are also credited with organizing the first Egg Roll race in 1974, after which winners received a “Nixon” ball point pen.

First lady Nancy Reagan leads a group of cartoon characters to the South Lawn of the White House Monday for the annual Easter Egg Roll, April 20, 1981. © Barry Thumma, Associated Press First lady Nancy Reagan leads a group of cartoon characters to the South Lawn of the White House Monday for the annual Easter Egg Roll, April 20, 1981.

The Reagans in 1981 became the first presidential couple to host a hunt for wooden eggs, each of which bore the signatures of famous people, according to White House records. Since then, wooden eggs have become the official keepsake of the yearly Easter event.

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The senior Bushes hosted an egg hunt in 1989 comprised of 5,000 real eggs, colored and hard-boiled, and 23,000 wooden eggs.

President Clinton poses with the Easter Bunny at the start of the annual Easter Egg Roll on April 13, 1998, at the White House. The White House chef has dyed 7,200 hard-boiled eggs for the annual traditional event that dates back to 1878. © Greg Gibson, Associated Press President Clinton poses with the Easter Bunny at the start of the annual Easter Egg Roll on April 13, 1998, at the White House. The White House chef has dyed 7,200 hard-boiled eggs for the annual traditional event that dates back to 1878.

The 1998 Egg Roll launched the tradition into the future as the first time the festivities were broadcast live on the internet, White House archives show. Tickets still weren't distributed online until 2009, when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted their first Easter Monday Egg Roll.

The Obamas Egg Rolls consisted of healthy snack-making, shooting hoops and "celebrity" appearances of characters like Spider-Man, "Sesame Street's" Cookie Monster and minions from the animated movie “Despicable Me.”

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump hosted three Easter Egg Rolls before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation, forcing the White House to cancel the customary event.

In 2020, Trump offered an Easter Blessing and called on the nation to come together in support of first responders, calling the virus an "invisible enemy."

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The Biden administration held a virtual Easter egg hunt in 2021, as the pandemic continued to rage on into its first year in office. Monday's festivities mark the first event since before the pandemic took hold.

a group of people standing in front of a flower: President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and the Easter Bunny wave from the White House balcony on Easter Monday during what would have been the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll, which was canceled due to Covid-19, on the South Lawn, April 5, 2021. © SAUL LOEB, AFP via Getty Images President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and the Easter Bunny wave from the White House balcony on Easter Monday during what would have been the traditional White House Easter Egg Roll, which was canceled due to Covid-19, on the South Lawn, April 5, 2021.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: The White House Easter Egg Roll's storied history, explained

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