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Spring Egg Rolls
American traditions are abundant. Hot dogs at baseball games, and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Even holidays that are celebrated the world over come with their own set of American customs. Easter is no exception. Every spring across America children don their Easter bonnets and clutch their baskets hoping to collect as many Easter Eggs as possible. Some hunt plastic bulbs filled with confectionery treats, while others look for carefully dyed, hard-boiled eggs. Some holiday traditions literally find their roots in the soil of our Nation’s Capital. One such custom is the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll.
The beginning of the annual Easter Egg Roll is debatable, although most sources believe that it began with Andrew Johnson’s administration and it took place on the lawn of the Capitol building. One fact that is never up for debate on Capitol Hill is how the Easter Monday celebration was moved from the lawn of the Capitol Building to the White House. Every year, the Monday after Easter, throngs of children would flock to the Capitol grounds with baskets full of colorful hardboiled eggs and a very large spoon. Egg Rolling is not just another way of saying ‘egg hunt’ as one might imagine. Instead, the tradition is to push the eggs along with a large spoon to see who could make their eggs go the furthest without becoming completely scrambled. This of course, would leave the capitol grounds in complete disarray.
In 1876 Washington was going through a significant sprucing up, and the lawn was receiving a pretty pricey manicure. After the little tykes chipped up the grass and left a trail of egg shells in their path, Congress passed a law forbidding the Capitol grounds to be used as the site of the post-Easter festivities. Easter 1877 rolled around and with it torrential rains that cancelled all prospects of egg-rolling on Monday, but the gap year did not make Congress forget the law passed in 1876.
On Easter Saturday 1878, an announcement in the press warned rollers of the law, which outraged Americans born after the Civil War. As the legend goes, prospective participants approached President Rutherford B. Hayes while he was getting his morning exercise, strolling along the streets of Washington. Hayes had never heard of egg rolling because his first Easter Monday was spent inside due to inclement weather in 1877. After the morning ambush on Holy Saturday, 1878, Hayes informed the White House staff that should little ones arrive with their spoons and baskets on Monday, they would be allowed to perform their springtime tradition on the White House lawn. Some uninformed egg-rollers first went to the Capitol, but as they were turned away news quickly spread that they should redirect their efforts towards 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. All had a grand old time, and the President’s home forevermore became the place for this annual spring pastime.
By the end of the century special games were added along with the other pomp and circumstance of the day. A few years after he performed “The Congress Hall March in Cape May,” John Phillip Sousa brought the sounds of the United State Marine Band to the celebration. The tradition of music via Mr. Sousa’s performance was instated by President Harrison in 1889, interestingly enough. Harrison would later find himself spending his summers in Cape May. Perhaps it was Mr. Sousa’s recommendation that drove Harrison to America’s First Seaside Resort for the summer of 1891.
In one hundred and forty one years, the event has been cancelled twice. Once for World War I, and again for twelve years during World War II. Eisenhower brought the tradition back in 1953, each administration putting their special spin on the celebration. The Easter Bunny’s first appearance was under the Nixon administration, and the Reagan’s added a bit of Hollywood to Easter in the 1980s. Under Ronald and Nancy, a hunt for wooden eggs signed by Hollywood celebrities delighted egg rollers young and old. The Reagan’s also added Broadway performances and balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Today, 30,000 tickets are distributed to the Easter Egg Roll via a lottery. Each year there is a different theme (the Obama’s centered on health and fitness), and each administration puts their own spin on what has become a quintessentially American event.
At Congress Hall on Easter Sunday the lawn will fill with little tykes clutching empty baskets. No spoons will be necessary for the Easter Egg Hunt on the lawn. Families will gather in the Ballroom for Easter Brunch and the Easter Bunny and Blue the Pig will delight children of all ages. The Summer White House has created its own traditions surrounding Easter, and many families return year after year to take part. No special ticket or lottery necessary- all are welcome to join in the quintessential Cape May tradition of Easter at Congress Hall.