The Easter Egg Roll is an Easter Monday tradition in Washington, DC, which allegedly started in the early 1800s with Dolly Madison. The event takes place on the White House Lawn, and includes thousands of children and their parents who descend upon the White House to play games, hunt for eggs, listen to stories, and meet the Easter Bunny. Entrance to the Easter Egg Roll is available to anyone holding a ticket, and tickets are available for free on a first come, first serve basis through the White House and organizations to which the White House releases blocks of tickets.
Until 1877, the Easter Egg Roll was held on the grounds of the US Capital Building. Members of Congress expressed discontent with the state of the lawns after the event, however, and banned the practice. According to legend, in 1878 President Rutherford B. Hayes, who was unfamiliar with the tradition, was asked by a group of children if they could use the White House Lawn, since the Capitol grounds were closed to them. President Hayes consented, and the White House Easter Egg Roll was born. Other versions of the story suggest that it may have been his wife who invited the children to play on the lawns.
Residents of the White House have continued the tradition of the Easter Egg Roll, with cancellations occurring only during the First and Second World War, and during periods of extensive renovations. The Easter Egg Roll is a reminder that the White House belongs to the American people, and is, as First Lady Michelle Obama once said, "the people's house." First Lady Nancy Reagan famously personally invited a child who had supported her husband's political opponent during the election, illustrating that the event was open to all, regardless of political affiliation, socioeconomic class, race, or creed.
For the White House, the Easter Egg Roll is an unbeatable public relations opportunity, usually receiving positive coverage in the news. The First Family typically attends, with the President making a speech to welcome attendees. When children are living in the White House, they often participate in the egg hunts, races, and other events, and in a few cases the adult members of the First Family have participated as well; President Grover Cleveland was the first President to join in.
People who are interested in attending the annual event can obtain tickets online when they are released by the White House. They may also be able to get tickets from organizations which hold blocks of tickets, such as groups which promote the welfare of underserved children. Attendees of the event must follow security precautions listed on their tickets, and they get to take home a keepsake presented by the First Family.