It is a scene of colorful chaos at the White House today, as more than 35,000 kids and parents descend on the south lawn for the annual Easter Egg Roll. The event will bring in the very latest figures from children's fiction, education, and entertainment -- everyone from Elmo to Julianne Moore -- but it is one of the oldest White House traditions. It was first hosted by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878, though unofficial egg rolling at the White House dates back as far as Abraham Lincoln.
The public celebration gives presidents a chance to show off their fluffier side, sidling up to life-sized Easter bunnies or crouching down to roll an egg or two. As with so many White House social events, it is often the First Lady who plays a leading role. Eleanor Roosevelt introduced organized games to the egg roll in 1933. Pat Nixon brought the official White House Easter Bunny to the festivities.
In 1981, Nancy Reagan put her own stamp on the tradition when her hunt replaced real eggs with wooden eggs -- which soon became the official White House Egg Roll keepsake -- a takeaway for every child lucky enough to attend, many of whom win their tickets in the annual ticket lottery.
Neil Mulholland, president of the National Park Foundation, said this year's wooden eggs are not only "100 percent made in America," they are also environmentally-friendly: They don't spoil, they use a water-based coating, and the wood comes from sustainable forests, which is a good thing, considering the White House will give away about 22,000 of them.
Although it falls on a very Christian holiday, Mulholland said the event is a non-denominational one. "It's really an open house ... a chance for families to come and visit the White House," he said, which in addition to being the president's home and workplace, is also, after all, a national park.Of course there are few White House events that roll by without pushing a political agenda.
"This year will feature our theme of 'Let's Go, Let's Play, Let's Move,' " said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, a reflection of the First Lady's initiative to fight childhood obesity.
And perhaps most importantly for all those parents, there will be fun for the kids. Lots of it.