The politics of the Easter Egg roll

I’ve never really thought of Easter as being the sort of day when one looks for “star studded events” unless you’ve got a special guest delivering the sermon at church. But that’s never managed to stop the denizens of Washington DC from glamming and hamming it up. This year’s annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn is no exception.

The White House put out the talent line-up and the roster of celebrity attendees for the 135th annual Easter Egg Roll to be held Monday. The announcement came Friday, the day President Obama talked about Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection in his Easter message.

Readers on the Storytime Stage will include NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson, Academy Award-nominated actress Quvenzhané Wallis and Elmo, Abby, Gordon and Rosita from Sesame Street

Really? Elmo? With all those kids there? Well, I hope they’re going to have somebody else doing the voice.

There’s also a clear difference in how various politicians handle the event. For just one example, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his family have a similar tradition, but not exactly the same.

Governor Chris Christie and First Lady Mary Pat Christie welcomed 300 special needs children, ages 3 – 6 years old, and their families to Drumthwacket for the annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday, April 16. Overall, approximately 600 participants attended the festivities in the gardens of the Governor’s official residence.

So the President has an Easter egg “roll” and Christie has an Easter egg “hunt.” Makes sense, I suppose. After all, hunting… guns… you know the drill.

I got to wondering how long this has been going on, and was somewhat surprised to see how far back it goes. They were already doing it in the mid 1800s, but the event was held on the Capitol grounds, rising to a peak of activity under President Andrew Johnson. Unfortunately, the little tykes were creating a bit of a mess, so Congress reacted in precisely the way you’d expect them to.

The egg roll activity of 1876 took its toll on the grounds, a fact that did not go unnoticed by members of Congress. With an already inadequate budget to complete the landscaping and maintenance of the grounds, Congress passed a law forbidding the Capitol grounds to be used as a children’s playground. The law was to be enforced in 1877. But that Easter Monday rain poured down, canceling any outdoor activities sending the egg rollers indoors to play.

On Easter Saturday of 1878, a small announcement in the local press informed the egg rollers the new law would be enforced. President Rutherford B. Hayes, taking his daily walk, was approached by a number of young egg rollers who inquired about the possibilities of egg rolling on the South Lawn of the White House. Unfamiliar with the activity [his first Easter Monday as President had been rained out the proceeding year] President Hayes, upon his return to the White House, inquired amongst his staff who briefed the attentive Chief Executive. The smiling President issued an official order that should any children arrive to egg roll on Easter Monday, they were to be allowed to do so. That Monday, as children were being turned away from the Capitol grounds, word quickly spread to go to the White House!

President Hayes and his wife, Lucy, officially opened the White House grounds to the children of the area for egg rolling that Easter Monday. Successive Presidents continued the tradition, and the event has been held on the South Lawn ever since.

So Congress actually took time out of their busy day to pass a law banning children from having an Easter egg roll on the capitol grounds. And to think… they did this long before their approval ratings headed toward 12%.

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