The White House Easter Egg Roll, Then & Now

Every year since 1878, the President and First Family have hosted an annual Easter Egg Roll on the front lawn of the White House, and this year is no different. The Obamas are bringing out the weird-looking traditional giant bunny, and thousands of kids and adults alike will join President Obama in hunting eggs, playing games, reading stories, and yes, they literally do roll eggs across the South Lawn. So what can the 35,000 people expected to attend the White House Easter Egg Roll look forward to finding this Monday? How will it be different from the first event 137 years ago?

This year, the Easter Egg Roll — where, unfortunately, there are no Chinese egg rolls — has a theme, and said theme is even a hashtag: #GimmeFive. What exactly does #GimmeFive mean? The event is centered around Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative, so it likely plays on the concept of activity and physical outdoor play. But the only clear relationship between the theme and the initiative is a pretty high-level abstract one. There will be no multiples of five in the games. Rather, "Gimme five" are the words you say to someone who just aced a great race, finished a great marathon, or rolled a great unbroken egg. So kids participating in the games at this year's Egg Roll are basically competing for a high five from the President. And those are already lucky kids — tickets to the event are granted based on a lottery system of applications.

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With the 2015 Egg Roll, the White House has made it clear they don't intend to break with tradition. According to the official Easter Egg Roll page:

Keeping history alive, the event will feature sports and fitness zones, cooking demonstrations, and Easter classics such as the egg roll and egg hunt, live music and storytelling.
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But this year's event isn't going to be completely old-fashioned. Doesn't that blurb say it will include "fitness zones"? That doesn't sound much like 1878 to me. Luckily, the White House has a public archive of photos from Egg Rolls dating from 1898, so we can see what's changed about Easter at the White House since the 19th century and what hasn't.

Here are six things about the traditional Easter Egg Roll that have — and haven't — changed over the years.


Back in 1898, this little girl's hat was totally not a weird thing to wear and was, in fact, appropriate for some occasions, including Easter. Her egg hunt probably included very dainty, small steps, rather than the cutthroat, every-man-for-himself pace of today's suburban backyard egg battles.

Maypole Dances

People don't really do this anymore, at least not on the South Lawn for all the world to see. Also, I doubt today's kids would have the patience to complete a task with such delayed gratification — a bunch of twisted ribbons? Why did I just run in all these circles?

The Prize Basket

According to the White House, this guy is Warren Sonnemann, who won the prize basket at 1923's Egg Roll celebration. As you can see, the basket is composed more of intricate toy bunnies and plush birds than tinfoil-wrapped candies. Nowadays, kids don't compete for a prize basket, and the baskets they do get at home are likely full of plastic grass and chocolate bunnies with jaundiced candy eyes.

Being Grumpy

In 1939, these kids were as disillusioned with the idea of hunting for hard-boiled eggs as any elementary schooler is in 2015. It's kinda hot and sunny and they're being forced to work for food with a ton of other kids, who are also annoying. Can't they just go home and have ham?

The Creepy Bunny


As if the regular Easter Bunny isn't scary enough, for some reason, the White House continues to use the same terrifying bunny costume every year to act as mascot. As the Washington Post so eloquently puts it:

What makes the bunny so creepy? Maybe it's the perma-smile. The wide, unseeing eyes. Or maybe it's the fact that he (or she) stands, silently watching, just feet away from the most powerful person on the planet. Sometimes even closer. Is the bunny planning something? They could be. And we'd never know what, until it was too late.

Egg Rolling

Perhaps the most bizarre custom that has not changed since the very first Easter Egg Roll is the actual rolling of the eggs. Small children literally kneel down and use giant spoons to coax their eggs across the grass. Whoever can roll their egg to the finish line without cracking it is the winner. But why do we do this? What purpose does it serve? And then there is the most burning question: will the White House ever upgrade to an official Easter Egg Hunt?

Images:; Getty Images