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Behind the mask

todayApril 1, 2024 2

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Behind the mask

It’s an odd sight. President Joe Biden waving on the White House balcony, a giant Easter Bunny standing beside him, its expression unreadable.

No, Uncle Joe is not introducing our new rabbit overlords. This is an American tradition dating back more than 50 years.

What’s the story behind the mask, and who gets to play the Easter Bunny?

Every year, on Easter Monday, Washington DC hosts its annual White House Easter Egg Roll celebration, inviting children and parents from all over the country to take part in games on the lawn.

Biden

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A second bunny has appeared in recent years. Pic: AP

The event itself has its roots in the time of Abraham Lincoln, but the first official egg roll happened in 1878.

“Today the event has turned into an elaborate large-scale production drawing thousands of families to the South Lawn for a chance to experience one of the White House’s most visible public traditions,” says White House expert Jennifer B Pickens.

The giant bunnies are part of that tradition.

His legacy may be defined by the Watergate scandal that brought him down, but President Richard Nixon left another mark on the country.

It was he, and First Lady Pat Nixon, who first recruited volunteers to dress as characters, including Bugs Bunny and Sylvester the Cat.

President Donald Trump and the Easter Bunny, after speaking to the crowd on the Truman Balcony during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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President Donald Trump appears alongside the rabbit. Pic: AP

Melania

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Melania Trump and her companion. Pic: AP

In 1969, one of Mrs Nixon’s staff members put on a white jumpsuit and Peter Rabbit mask, marking the beginning of the much loved White House tradition.

“That fun tradition continues to this day,” Ms Pickens tells Sky News.

In Ronald Reagan’s time it was Ursula Meese, the wife of the US Attorney General Edwin Meese, who dressed up as the “Meester Bunny”.

In 2008 Sean Spicer, who would go on to serve as Donald Trump’s press secretary, donned the white costume and appeared on the Truman Balcony with President George W Bush.

Barack Obama and the Easter Bunny

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Barack Obama and the Easter Bunny wave. Pic: AP

President Bill Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, along with an Easter bunny, watch over the opening of the annual White House Easter egg roll at the White House in Washington, April 17, 1995. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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The Clintons and the rabbits. Pic: AP


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The costume has evolved over the years, with earlier incarnations looking a little different to the Biden era bunnies.

Often multiple people will play the role of the bunny over the course of the day at the White House.

In 2022 a clip of the Easter Bunny appearing to direct President Biden away from a difficult question about Afghanistan went viral.

President George Bush and his granddaughter, Marshall, are greeted by a couple of oversized bunnies and several hundred children during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House South Lawn, April 16, 1990. (AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi)

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President George HW Bush and his granddaughter in 1990. Pic: AP


Ms Pickens added: “The White House Easter Egg Roll has become the largest annual public event at the White House, it is a longstanding American tradition that brings all people together.

“The White House is the only building in the world that acts as a home and office to the American president while also being a museum open to all, it is amazing that so many are welcome on this day to be this close to the American commander in chief while rolling eggs, and other fun activities.

“The White House bunny has become part of this unique and significant history.”

Written by: Newsroom

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