- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Dozens of local children and adults yesterday took part, at least for a couple of hours, in the annual African-American Family Celebration, a tradition for more than 100 years, at the National Zoo.

The heavy rain forced zoo officials to cancel the event at about noon.

Still, the children who got to the zoo early in the day participated in events that included traditional Easter-egg hunts and rolls, and arts and crafts. They also got a chance to listen to the Honorable Baba-C, a griot, or West African storyteller, who taught them the art of storytelling.

The event usually draws about 20,000 people, but yesterday’s rains forced many to stay home.

“The weather hasn’t helped [attendance],” said Doug Speaks, 64, a 28-year metalworker at the zoo. “But it hasn’t dampened the spirit of the people.”

The annual celebration has gradually changed from family picnics and animal watching to education, Mr. Speaks said, recalling that a couple of decades ago,

“They used to walk over here all the way from the Southeast.”

Each year since the 1890s, black families have visited the zoo on Easter Monday to celebrate the holiday with a day of relaxation and socializing. It has become the largest annual event at the zoo, said Matt Olear, a spokesman for the Friends of the National Zoo, the zoo’s nonprofit support organization.

About 20 children participated in the zoo’s egg hunt and roll between 10 a.m. and noon yesterday.

Giana Webster, 6, of Silver Spring, shivered in her hooded rain jacket even after she had aggressively searched through mounds of hay to find colored, plastic eggs at the zoo’s Great Meadow.

“I’m cold,” she said.

The cold, wet weather didn’t hinder her brother, J.C., 8, who waited patiently in a hooded sweatshirt while waiting to choose a prize from the sheltered entry table.

Their sister Nikki, 10, bedecked in colorful, slick rain gear, had already picked a play wristwatch from among candy rolls, fuzzy rabbit ears and plastic knickknacks.

Except for the seals and giraffes, the animals stayed indoors throughout the morning as the children and adults walked around the grounds. Staff members stood by to answer any questions the children had about the animals, their natural habitats and how zoo attendants cared for them.

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