A new, oversized set of floppy ears will take their place on the White House’s Truman Balcony on Monday.
It’s time for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll, the festive – if kitschy – annual tradition dating to the 1870s. And this year, the iconic Easter Bunny, normally played by a good-humored staffer, is getting a much-needed upgrade.
“After years of using loaned Easter Bunny costumes, we are ‘egg-cited’ to have our own Official White House Easter Bunny Family, thanks to the generous support of the White House Historical Association,” Vanessa Valdivia, spokesperson for first lady Jill Biden, told CNN exclusively.
While it may seem eggs-tra amid the important work of the White House and the pressing news of the day, the bunny suit and event more broadly signify an American tradition that has somehow withstood intense political polarization.
“There are certain things that are part of the American fabric. Tradition is what makes a country unique. Every country has things that are woven into its fabric, and this is one of ours,” Sean Spicer told CNN in a recent interview. (The onetime Trump White House press secretary had donned the White House Easter Bunny costume during the George W. Bush administration when he served as assistant US trade representative for media and public affairs.)
A little-known secret from experienced White House bunnies is that, usually, multiple people play the role in hour-plus-long shifts over the course of the day’s events.
“The big lesson learned is – be the first person,” Spicer said. “Early is key. Doesn’t matter what the temperature is – the suit gets hot and gross, quick.”
Monday’s event will be President Joe Biden and Jill Biden’s second crack at the Easter tradition, marking the 143rd White House Easter Egg Roll. The theme of the event, the first lady’s office said, is “EGGucation” for a second year in a row, and the South Lawn and Ellipse will be transformed “into a school community, full of fun educational activities for children of all ages.”
It will feature a “School House Activity Area, Reading Nook, Talent Show, Field Trip to the Farm, Picture Day, a Physical ‘EGGucation’ Zone, a Snack Time Tent and more,” her office said.
And NASA, per the White House, “sent one of the wooden Official White House Easter Eggs up to the International Space Station, where astronauts could demonstrate the laws of gravity to students everywhere.”
Special guests will include USA Olympic gold medalist gymnast Dominique Dawes, Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, Sesame Street actor Alan Muraoka and characters Rosita and Elmo, members of the Philadelphia Eagles, actress and singer Halle Bailey and cast members from Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway, among others, per the White House.
Thirty-thousand visitors are expected throughout the day on the South Lawn, including military and veteran families, caregivers, and survivors, per the White House. Children will participate in the time-honored Americana custom of pushing brightly colored, hard-boiled eggs across grass with wooden spoons, their parents cheering them on and snapping photos.
The North Carolina-based Braswell Family Farms is supplying 30,000 hard-boiled eggs for the festivities. Twenty-thousand of those eggs will arrive dyed, per a spokesperson for Braswell Family Farms, a highly coordinated process that takes place over five days. The eggs can be dyed one case – 360 eggs – at a time, which requires 16 to 20 gallons of dye and 12 gallons of vinegar as the eggs move across five stations: boil, ice, dye, dry, and repackage. They travel a total of 493 miles to the White House via refrigerated truck.
The American Egg Board will also present its annual commemorative egg to the first lady, part of a 46-year tradition beginning with the Carter administration. Artist Carolyn Bickel designed an “EGGucation”-themed egg, decorated with painted books. The inside of a real chicken egg was blown out through a special process, leaving the shell intact, before the decoration could begin.
Along with the painted gifted egg, the White House East Colonnade “will be transformed into the ‘United States of Possibility’ Colonnade of Eggs exhibit, featuring hand-painted and decorated eggs representing all 50 U.S. states and six territories,” per the American Egg Board.
Egg rolling: A brief history
The egg rolling tradition began in the 1870s on US Capitol grounds. After a particularly rotten 1876 roll in which eyewitness John C. Rathbone observed “the wanton destruction of the grass on the terraces of the park,” President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation to protect Capitol grounds, which prohibited egg rolling, per the National Archives.
But in 1878, a more egg-friendly President Rutherford B. Hayes allowed children to roll their eggs on the White House South Lawn.
According to an article in that evening’s edition of the Evening Star, per the National Archives, the children were quite pleased: “Driven out of the Capitol grounds, the children advanced on the White House grounds to-day and rolled eggs down the terraces back of the Mansion, and played among the shrubbery to their heart’s content.”
The tradition continues as a collaboration between the White House, the White House Historical Association and the National Park Service.
Florence Harding dyed the eggs herself in 1921, The Washington Post reported at the time.
In 1927, the Post reported that Grace Coolidge brought her pet raccoon, Rebecca, out on the grounds on a leash, to Rebecca’s annoyance.
“The crush was too much for Rebecca and she showed her displeasure plainly. But the first lady was not so easily discouraged. She carried the pet indoors and returned to the delight of the crowd,” the report said.
Eleanor Roosevelt oversaw the egg roll during her husband’s four terms in office, including 1937, when more than 50,000 children attended.
During the Obama administration, first lady Michelle Obama used the egg roll to promote her “Let’s Move” initiative, and the star-studded lineup included performances by Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande. Beyoncé and Jay-Z were among the attendees in 2016.
The Trump administration saw a return to Egg Roll basics, with activity stations, egg and cookie decorating, and costumed characters.
Last year’s event marked the first Egg Roll after a two-year pandemic-driven hiatus. To this day, the egg roll remains one of the only times of the year that the White House South Lawn is open to the public – with tickets – to enjoy.