The object, said the President of the United States, was to roll the egg - not push it.

"Somebody roll an egg," he said with all the authority of the Commander-in-Chief.

With stainless steel spoon in hand Amy Carter, 9, obeyed, beginning the eight-yard-long feat by pushing a blue egg down lane No. 2 to the finish line of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll yesterday.

It was that grand old Easter Monday tradition that found the White House much the same as in previous years, with only the tenants changed.

Led by Jimmy Carter himself, several members of his family, including Rosalyn Carter and grandson Jason Carter, 20 months, turned up for the festivities on the South Lawn.

All in all, 15,347 persons - 5,347 more than expected and 6,533 more than last year - showed up for the midday festivity that lasted four hours and turned out to be as varied as any three-ring circus. There were marionettes, mountain cloggers from North Carolina, a cowboy twirling his rope tricks and a small menagerie that featured a live lamb, a pony, a chicken and a 1,200-pound steer named Big Red.

And, of course, the Easter Bunny, though not a real one - only a White House staffer dressed up in a long-eared costume.

Surveying the scene from the second-level balcony of the South Portico was the President's mother, Miss Lillian, confined to a wheelchair because of an arthritic condition in her legs. She waved back to those in the throng below who spotted her.

Military bands played walking-around music for moms and dads, running-around music for the kids. Everybody did a lot of gawking - at each other, at the First Family and at the White House generally.

The President stayed 30 minutes, part of that time with grandson Jason hoisted to his shoulders. Carter, who had slipped out of his Oval Office to attend the affair, wore a gray pinstriped suit, Amy and Jason were similarly attired in green and white checks and Rosalyn Carter wore white slacks, with dark blue blouse and jacket.

Amy's tree house, more a platform on stilts than a "house," drew stares of the curious but only from outside temporary fences erected for the day.

There were eggs decorated with White House decals for contest winners, and presidential handshakes for those in Carter's path.