Thousands of kids dressed for winter weather scrambled for eggs — Easter eggs, that is — at a White House ceremony dating back to the 19th century.

The annual White House Easter Egg Roll, started by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1878, typically has been a rite of spring in Washington. But on Monday, it was afflicted by winter's parting bite — cold air and even colder grounds. Undaunted by any of this, the young guests sprang into action under the watchful eyes of their families, hostess Laura Bush and several Bush administration Cabinet secretaries.

"In Washington, we know spring has arrived when the White House lawn is filled with children for the Easter Egg Roll, one of the happiest traditions here at the White House," the first lady said.

Children competing in the egg roll races pushed eggs across a stretch of grass using giant spoons. The festivities also included an egg hunt, musical performances, reading, magicians and face painting.

About 7,200 eggs were available for the egg roll races. Another 3,000 dyed eggs were used for the egg hunt and 4,200 were boiled for children to dye.

After her welcome, the first lady sat in one of the area's designated reading nooks and read "Duck for President," by Doreen Cronin. It's a story of a duck who gets sick of farm chores and decides to run for office — first for head of the farm, then governor and, finally, president. In the end he decides running the country is too much work and goes back to the farm.

Over 18,000 tickets for the 2007 festivities were distributed. The event's theme, health and fitness, encouraged kids to get out and exercise every day to prevent childhood obesity.

Each child got to take away a commemorative White House wooden Easter egg, an activity coloring book, a White House bookmark, a children's book, piece of candy, commemorative poster and a "My American Journal" booklet.

Across from the White House, meanwhile, a handful of activists at Lafayette Park hunted for brightly colored tennis balls in an alternative "Easter cluster bomb hunt," intended to dramatize the fact that many areas of the globe, such as South Lebanon, are not safe for children because of persistent fighting and unexploded munitions.

"What we're really trying to get across is that all children should be able to have fun like this and not be worried about getting blown up," said Brian Hennessey, from the Vineeta Foundation, one of the organizers.