WASHINGTON (NEW YORK TIMES/WASHINGTON POST) - President Donald Trump blew the whistle on Monday (April 17) to kick off his first White House Easter Egg Roll, praising the strength of the United States and the competitive spirit of the children participating, as his staff worked to carry off a 139-year-old tradition that has faced scheduling and organisational challenges.
On an overcast morning punctuated by showers, Trump emerged on the White House balcony with his wife, Melania Trump, and youngest son, Barron, along with the Easter Bunny to greet attendees of the annual springtime festival on the South Lawn. The elaborate and labour-intensive Egg Roll is among the most daunting social events the presidential staff has to plan.
“We will be stronger and bigger and better as a nation than ever before, and we are right on track,” Donald Trump said as he overlooked the festivities, where children gathered for the marquee race, in which eggs are rolled across the White House lawn with a wooden spoon. “I’ve seen those kids, and they’re highly, highly competitive.”
Trump thanked and congratulated his wife, who he said has “been working on this for a long time, to make it perfect.”
Melania Trump, who resides in New York and has few staff members, has faced challenges in planning and executing the Egg Roll, which has been scaled back considerably this year, to about 21,000 attendees from 35,000 in recent years. Planning began late, leaving vendors and participants wondering for a time whether the event would go forward at all.
Instead of the A-list celebrities and crowds of costumed characters that have graced past Egg Rolls, this year’s featured a few little-known musical acts and military bands, with fewer characters strolling the South Lawn to greet children.
But the mood was cheery despite the clouds and an occasional downpour, and the Trumps played warm hosts.
The president and his family took seats at a craft table to make greeting cards for US troops, and later Melania Trump read “Party Animals,” a story by television personality Kathie Lee Gifford about celebrating each animal’s differences rather than focusing on their bad qualities.
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary who wore a bunny suit for the event a decade ago when he was an aide in the administration of George W. Bush, did not don the furry outfit this year. But he did dress for the occasion; he was spotted on the South Lawn wearing a tie festooned with bunnies.
And Donald Trump presided over the highly anticipated main event: the rolling of the eggs. "“Ready, everybody?”
"Trump said with a smile, and blew a whistle to start the race.
Stephanie Grisham, Trump's spokeswoman, said this week that the first lady decided to scale back the event because she worried it had grown too large, creating long lines for some activities.
The White House said military bands, the New Jersey-based pop-rock band Bro4, and the Martin Family Circus would perform and commemorative eggs had been ordered. There was also a "reading nook, music stage, official egg roll, and other fun events," according to the White House website.
The Easter Egg Roll drew about 35,000 people in 2016, when the Obama White House organised a carnival-like event that highlighted the former first lady's "Let's Move" health and fitness initiative.
That year, singer Idina Menzel, Silento and others performed and the young attendees watched cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and shot hoops and batted tennis balls on courts alongside professional athletes.
This year, the White House was slow to make tickets available or to detail its Easter Egg Roll plans, leaving some of the event devotees to fret that the first family would do away with the longtime tradition, which dates back to 1878.
Wells Wood Turning, the Maine company that has manufactured the commemorative wooden eggs in years past, sent a frantic tweet on Feb 20 to President Trump and other members of the first family, warning that a manufacturing deadline was looming.
But the White House came through, releasing tickets in mid-March and distributing them via an online lottery and to "schools, children's' hospitals and military and law enforcement families," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said on Thursday. He said 18,000 eggs have been ordered, "which is in line for years past."