WASHINGTON — It was not, in the final analysis, the most clement weather for an outdoor party, with a cold rain falling on Washington, D.C., but Easter comes when it comes. This year, it happened to come as vestiges of winter moved over the mid-Atlantic region, but that did little to dampen enthusiasm for the White House Easter Egg Roll, a cherished tradition that had been put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s event was attended by the comedian Jimmy Fallon and the actress Kristin Chenoweth.
Fallon watched his daughter roll eggs down the lush lawn — with the president presiding over the first race — and then read from “Nana Loves You More,” a children’s book he authored. “This is so cool,” Fallon said, describing himself as a “bestselling author,” though he is more famous for hosting a late night talk show.
President Biden and first lady Jill Biden read the classic “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
Members of the extended Biden family were also on hand, including the president’s son Hunter, whose personal troubles and professional conduct have recently become the focus of public attention once again. Few people present, however, appeared to be occupied with allegations of stolen laptops or secret Chinese deals — not with Snoopy and Charlie Brown around.
The singer Ciara, who had visited the White House several months earlier, was also scheduled to make an appearance. John Fetterman, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor and U.S. Senate candidate, was captured at one point in a stoic pose.
Easter is a holiday of spring awakening and renewal. Two years ago, then-President Donald Trump envisioned that the pandemic would be over by the time Christians around the world marked the holiday, in late April.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Trump told Fox News at the time, only to see the coronavirus linger for the rest of his presidency.
The vaccines developed by Trump’s administration in concert with the pharmaceutical industry became widely available right around the time Biden became president. He has stressed caution and reliance on scientific expertise. Last year the White House canceled the annual Egg Roll event, but the president and first lady appeared on the South Portico of the White House in masks. The costumed Easter bunny even wore a giant surgical mask on top of the costume.
Since then, masks have remained an unrelentingly contentious issue, while vaccination — followed by booster shots — has emerged as the most consistent way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Neither the president nor the first lady wore a face mask on the South Portico on Monday. They were flanked by two Easter bunnies this time around. And neither bunny was masked either.
This year’s festivities were billed by the White House as an “Eggucation Roll,” a reference to the first lady’s work as a professor of education — and a subtle nod, it seems, to the challenges of schooling amid the pandemic, which could turn out to be a problem for Democrats in the looming November midterm elections.
“We weren’t able to host this Easter Egg Roll last year because of the pandemic,” the president said. “This year, we’re finally getting together again. And it’s so special. It means so much to see and hear the children and all the families show up to be here today.”
Throughout the day, 30,000 guests would attend the Egg Roll, one of the first events at a White House that is finally reopening to the public. The White House resumed public tours late last week.
“Welcome to your house — the people’s house,” the first lady said in her own remarks.
In another sign of returning government normalcy, President Biden is also planning his first state dinner, CNN reported over the weekend.
Earlier in April, a gala at the Gridiron Club and other events caused a spate of high-profile cases in the White House, as the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant BA.2 moved through parts of the Northeast, including the Washington area. None of those high-profile cases, however, appeared to be serious, a reflection of high vaccination rates in the region.
Few masks were worn by participants in the Easter celebrations on Monday, in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance that has long said face coverings were not necessary outside. In recent days, the White House has had to fend off questions from the press corps about whether sufficient precautions were being taken. It has insisted that no new measures, like a new mask mandate, are necessary.
Philadelphia recently became the first major American city to reimpose a mask mandate, a move that has been met with criticism that seems to reflect a broad public desire to move beyond the pandemic. “I believe it was premature for the local government to reimpose a mask requirement,” former Baltimore public health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen wrote in the Washington Post, arguing that neither infection rates nor hospitalizations justified the return of masking. “Other cities should not follow suit.”
Washington, D.C., has resisted following Philadelphia, and so has the White House itself, which operates under its own rules and restrictions. For months, the Biden administration has pointed out with increasing urgency that the widespread availability of vaccines, as well as the advent of and access to therapeutics — pills that can treat severe COVID-19 cases — should allow most Americans to return to normal.
Evidence of that desire was apparent elsewhere on Monday. For the first time since the pandemic began, the Boston Marathon was held on Patriots’ Day, as has been custom for more than a century: The famed race had been canceled altogether in 2020 and was moved to October last year. Unlike in Washington, the weather in Boston was reported as “perfect.”