The 140th White House Easter Egg Roll will be held on April 2, 2018, hosted by First Lady Melania Trump. This American tradition began on the U.S. Capitol grounds during the late 1800s, but Congress protested the destruction of the grounds and banned it from the premises. The event made its way to the White House in 1878 during President Rutherford B Hayes’s term where it has been held annually on the Monday after Easter. It was canceled during the war years (World War I and World War II) and due to post-war food conservation and the major White House renovation of Truman’s term. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, with First Lady Mamie Eisenhower at the helm, reinstated the tradition, and it has been rolling ever since—evolving along the way.
Mamie Eisenhower desegregated the Egg Roll by inviting all children regardless of color to the event. Also, the use of real eggs was substituted with wooden ones during the Nixon administration due, in part, to the stench of many well-hidden, forgotten little treasures. Over the years, live musical entertainment has taken on more prominence. Justin Bieber and the cast of “Glee” are among special guests who have entertained at the event in recent years.
While my sister Candy and I never attended the White House Egg Rolls, my two oldest siblings participated several times when our father worked on the Eisenhower White House Detail. Dressed in their Sunday best, my sister Joy and brother, Mark, ran around the neatly manicured south lawn of the White House collecting hard-boiled eggs. The event was opened to the public. Joy recalls feeling at home there since “the agents were all there.” Many were young fathers, like our father, and they acknowledged her. She recalls that Agent Art Godfrey, one of her favorite agents, introduced her to Mamie Eisenhower who graciously welcomed Joy to the White House. Mark, however, being five years younger, has few recollections of the events other than squashing a lot of eggs.
Why eggs? Because the egg symbolizes new life, and for Christians, Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In earlier days, eggshells were stained red to represent the blood of Christ shed at the crucifixion. Over the years, those red eggs became multi-colored ones accompanied by a plethora of candy—the contents of my childhood Easter baskets. That’s because I was born in the 1960s when “the land of plenty” had plenty of eggs and chocolate to spare. But my parents’ generation didn’t boast the same. During WWII, and several years thereafter, food rationing precluded these items.
Yet, our mother always embraced Easter with great celebration recognizing it as the most important of Christian holidays—the one in which our Savior rose from the dead. Despite being raised during the Depression and being from a family of meager income, she always dressed in her finest to celebrate the day—not with an empty basket, but with one full of hope. She continued that ritual with her own family, preparing for months, sewing our clothes for Easter Sunday, teaching us to respect the occasion.
Like our mother, I appreciate Easter. I am also grateful our country carries forth the celebration of the White House Egg Roll. Though the event is now crowd controlled via a lottery, it remains open to all of America’s children. It is a wonderful example of our free nation’s ability to celebrate life together. How fortunate we are to live in a country where such an event takes place.
Roll on America!