Egg rolling

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Egg roll on the White House lawn, 1929

Egg rolling, or an Easter egg roll is a traditional game played with eggs at Easter. Different nations have different versions of the game, usually played with hard-boiled, decorated eggs.


Starting in 1835, Jacob Grimm and other writers proposed that the pre-Christian Saxons had a spring goddess Eostre, whose feast was held on the Vernal Equinox, around 21 March. Grimm also suggested that her animal was "probably" the spring hare, and that the egg symbolized the rebirth of the land in spring. Some claim that Pope Gregory the Great had ordered his missionaries to use old religious sites and festivals and absorb them into Christian rituals where possible. According to Grimm and his followers, the Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Christ was ideally suited to be merged with the Pagan feast of Ēostre and many of the traditions were adopted into the Christian festivities.[1] In England, Germany and other countries, children traditionally rolled eggs down hillsides at Easter; this may have become symbolic of the rolling away of the rock from Jesus Christ’s tomb before his resurrection.[2] This tradition, along with others such as the Easter Bunny, were taken to the New World by European settlers.[2][3]

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom the tradition of rolling decorated eggs down grassy hills goes back hundreds of years and is known as "pace-egging", from the Old English Pasch meaning Pesach or Passover.[4] In Lancashire there are annual egg rolling competitions at Holcombe Hill near Ramsbottom and Avenham Park in Preston. Egg rolling has been a tradition at Avenham Park for hundreds of years but in recent years chocolate eggs have been used.[5] Other traditional egg rolling sites are the castle moat at Penrith, Bunkers Hill in Derby and Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh. Beacon Hill near Newbury, Berkshire is also an ideal spot. The eggs were traditionally wrapped in onion skins and boiled to give them a mottled gold appearance (although today they are usually painted) and the children competed to see who could roll their egg the furthest.[4] There is an old Lancashire legend that says the broken eggshells should be carefully crushed afterwards or they will be stolen and used as boats by witches.[6] The eggs were eaten on Easter Sunday or given out to pace-eggers – fantastically dressed characters who processed through the streets singing traditional pace-egging songs and collecting money as a tribute before performing traditional mumming plays.[7] At the Wordsworth museum in Grasmere there is a collection of highly decorated eggs made for the poet’s children.[7]

United States

The Reagans at the 1982 White House Easter egg roll
Barack Obama at the 2009 White House Easter egg roll
The 2010 White House Easter egg roll

In the United States, the Easter Egg Roll is an annual event, and is held on the White House lawn each Easter Monday for children and their parents.

The Egg Roll itself is a race, where children push an egg through the grass with a long-handled spoon.[8] Surrounding events include appearances by White House personalities in Easter Bunny costumes, speeches and book-reading by Cabinet secretaries, and exhibits of artistically-decorated eggs.

According to tradition,[9] Dolley Madison, the wife of President James Madison, began the event in 1814 and hundreds of children brought their decorated eggs to join in games. The original site was on the grounds of the United States Capitol, but in 1877 a new lawn was planted and the gardeners cancelled the event.[10] Congress then passed a law making it illegal to use the grounds as a children's playground.[11] At the request of a number of children, including his own, then President Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife Lucy Hayes brought the event to the White House lawns.[12] In 1953 Mamie Eisenhower proposed that event be opened to black children, and in 1954 the event was open to blacks.[13]

On April 13, 2009, the Obamas hosted their first White House Easter egg roll. The theme “Let’s go play” was meant to encourage young people to lead healthy, active lives.[14] Celebrities such as J.K. Rowling, the cast of Glee and Justin Bieber attended the egg roll in 2010. It was featured in the 2007 film National Treasure: Book of Secrets.

Other countries

In Germany, a prize is awarded to the contestant whose egg rolls fastest down a track made of sticks. In Denmark, decorated eggs are rolled down slopes in grassland or forest - the contestant whose egg rolls furthest is the winner - and eggs are eaten after the game (if not broken). The tradition is particularly common around the town of Køge. In the Netherlands, the contestant whose egg rolls furthest wins a prize. In Lithuania you collect the eggs that are touched by the one rolled by you. In Egypt, children bowl red and yellow eggs towards another row of eggs and whoever cracks one egg can claim them all. In eastern Europe, there are other traditions such as egg tapping and egg decorating.[15]

See also


  1. england-in-particular: Easter Retrieved on 2008-03-14
  2. 2.0 2.1 see Retrieved on 2008-03-15
  3. Easter Eggs: their origins, tradition and symbolism Retrieved on 2008-03-15
  4. 4.0 4.1 see Retrieved on 2008-03-15
  5. Anon (2012). "Easter Egg Rolling". Preston City Council. Retrieved 7 April 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Retrieved on 2008-03-15". Retrieved 2011-12-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 see Retrieved on 2008-03-15
  8. "White House Egg Roll Transforms South Lawn". NPR. Retrieved 2011-12-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Undocumented legend contends that Dolley Madison sponsored an egg-rolling contest for children on or near the lawn of the nearly-completed Capitol Building, although it was at the time not yet landscaped."; "According to White House curator Bill Allman, the curious tradition of egg-rolling on the White House lawn originated in the mid-to-late 19th century."
  10. Lent to Pentecost, a family event: Easter Egg Rolling Retrieved on 2008-03-14
  11. Richardson, William (1881). "86". The Public Statutes of the United States, Volume 1. Government Printing Office. p. 206.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "History of the White House Easter Egg Roll". Retrieved 2011-12-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. New York Times: The egg roll (again!) becomes a stage for controversy Retrieved on 2008-03-14
  14. "Obamas host first White House egg roll - TODAY People - White House -". MSNBC. 2009-04-13. Retrieved 2011-12-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Polan, Linda; Aileen Cantwell (1983). The Whole Earth Holiday Book. Good Year Books. ISBN 978-0-673-16585-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>