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40,000 people and 64,000 eggs: 144th White House Easter Egg Roll is underway

Guests participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 10, 2023, in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Guests participate in the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 10, 2023, in Washington, DC.

By Betsy Klein, CNN

(CNN) — The hottest ticket in Washington this week involves spoons, eggs, referees and a throng of cheering parents: It’s time for the 144th annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

Since the 1870s, children have participated in the time-honored, Americana custom of pushing brightly colored, hard-boiled eggs across the White House South Lawn with wooden spoons. They’ll do so again on Monday, celebrating a tradition that has withstood intense political polarization and global conflict – and even multiple world wars and pandemics.

“Easter reminds us of the power of hope and renewal, sacrifice and resurrection,” President Joe Biden said as he welcomed thousands of visitors to the White House, flanked by first lady Dr. Jill Biden and two Easter Bunnies. “But mainly, love and grace toward one another. It’s time to pray for one another, to cherish the blessings and possibilities that we have as Americans.”

Following his remarks, Joe Biden and the first lady met with children and their families on the South Lawn, where the president took selfies and helped kids roll their eggs. Hunter Biden, the president’s son, was also in attendance.

Yet political polarization has threatened to overshadow the festive, family-friendly event as Republicans railed against the White House for commemorating Transgender Day of Visibility on Easter Sunday, even though the day is observed annually on March 31. GOP lawmakers in leadership positions, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, called the presidential proclamation “appalling” as the White House fired back against what it cast as “cruel, hateful, and dishonest rhetoric.”

Republicans also seized upon guidelines that prohibit religious symbols at the event, though the head of the American Egg Board said such regulations have been in place for years and apply only to painted eggs inside the White House that are part of an installation designed by military children.

Monday’s event is the president and first lady’s third crack at the Easter festivities. Staff and volunteers have scrambled to prepare for the event, which is “EGGucation”-themed for a third year in a row.

The South Lawn and Ellipse have been transformed “into a school community, full of fun educational activities for children of all ages to enjoy,” the first lady’s office said, and the exterior of the White House “will be adorned with balloons, marked with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) school subjects.”

Approximately 40,000 visitors are expected to enter and eggs-it throughout the day, including military and veteran families, caregivers and survivors, per the White House.

There will also be opportunities to egg-splore, including an egg hunt and other school-themed activities, a sign the White House isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. Rain is in the forecast, but attendees are looking on the sunny side.

All about the eggs

The American Egg Board says there are 64,000 eggs on the South Lawn between the roll, the hunt, the food served and other activities.

North Carolina-based Braswell Family Farms is supplying 40,000 hand-dyed, hard-boiled eggs for the festivities, a highly coordinated process that takes place over five days.

The eggs can be dyed one case – 360 eggs – at a time, which requires 11 to 15 gallons of dye and 11 gallons of vinegar as the eggs move across five stations: boil, ice, dye, dry and repackage. They traveled 493 miles to the White House via refrigerated truck.

The additional 24,000 eggs hail from Sauder’s Eggs in Lititz, Pennsylvania.

The American Egg Board will also present its annual commemorative egg to the first lady. Master egg artist Carolyn Bickel designed an “EGGucation”-themed large egg surrounded by smaller, “pullet” eggs, decorated with an imagining girl. The inside of real chicken eggs were blown out through a special process, leaving the shells intact, before the decoration could begin.

Along with the painted, gifted egg, the White House East Colonnade has been decorated with spring florals, suspended hot-air balloons and a “Colonnade of Eggs” painted by professional egg artists from designs by children of National Guard families from across the country.

The first lady’s commemorative egg dates to the Carter administration – and 47 years later, it remains a relevant tradition.

“You really can’t have Easter and Passover in the spring without eggs. And I think for our farmers, too – they’re such an incredibly patriotic group of people who really value food production – and that means something to them. And I think they value the service that the first ladies give to our country,” Emily Metz, president and CEO of the American Egg Board, said in an interview with CNN.

“Honoring both of those things at Easter just made a lot of sense,” Metz said.

Egg rolling: a 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,” then-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.

Former first lady Florence Harding, wife of then-President Warren G. Harding, dyed the eggs herself in 1921, The Washington Post reported at the time.

In 1927, The Post reported that Grace Coolidge, wife of then-President Calvin 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.

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt oversaw the Egg Roll during her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt’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.

The Egg Roll took a two-year, pandemic-driven hiatus in 2020 and 2021. To this day, the event remains one of the only times of the year that the White House South Lawn is open to the public – with tickets – to enjoy.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Sam Fossum contributed to this report.

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