Arelia Brown, 89 and the matriarch of her family, remembers that when she was a little girl in Rock Hill, S.C., her mother would cook the Easter dinner for hours the day before, wrapping it in baskets and shoe boxes for the speeches and church supper on the lawn. Easter morning they would ride the horse and buggy to church.

"We would get in that buggy, drawn by two horses, and just before we got to church, we would stop so that we could put on Easter clothes and new shoes," Mrs. Brown said. "I rememeber one year wearing a green dress and having black button shoes. We didn't put the shoes on until we got to church because we didn't want to scuff them up."

Although times have changed, many Easter traditions have not. In the Washington area yesterday, many families celebrated the holiday with religious observances, feasts and Easter egg hunts. At Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County, only one such event, more than 500 children participated in a hunt.

At the Brown household at 1800 Upshur St. NW, in Washington, Easter egg hunts have become a tradition handed down to the great-grandchildren.

"When we were children, my mother and father would dye the eggs and hide them, rain or shine," said Cheryl Brown Lancaster, mother of Lesley, aged 21 months. "Once they hid an egg in a typewriter and it stayed there 'forever.' We did not find it until we smelled it."

"We're going to boil and dye the eggs for our children, too, and hide them after dinner for the egg hunt," she said.

"All during the week, we have been drilling the grandchildren about the real significance of Easter,; said Geraldine Brown, Cheryl's mother. "We try to let them know that it's not just new clothes."

Around Arelia Brown yesterday were the sounds of laughter and conversation from three younger generations of her family and several friends, and the smells of hot rolls, roast beef and butter cake.

In television room, Wendell Lancaster, husband to one of Brown's granddaughters joined Johnsyne Brown Jones, another granddaughter, in alternately prasing and citicizings the performances of Bullet basketball players as they battled the Atlanta Hawks.

In the kitchen, Geraldine Brown put the finishing touches on the meal her sister Pinky Evans cooked, while the rest of the family attended services at the Metropolitan AME church.

Each person had a role to play in the observances, from the selection of the food and drink and preparation of the meals to the prayer that Arelia Brown gave at the beginning of dinner.

The night before, five adults accompanied three children to a shopping center to buy the children's Easter shoes. The same group also bought the groceries and, according to one of them, it was a wonder a decision was ever made on what to buy.

"Easter means a time that the family gets together for a chance to enjoy ourselves," said Wendell Landcaster. "And we don't have to go outside the family to have fun."

The hunt for 32 dozen eggs at Burke Lake Park in southern Fairfax County resembled a madcap Kentucky Derby. More than 500 youngsters showed up at the event, which was sponsored by the Fairfax Park Authority.

Shortly before the hunt began 12-year-old Jeff Koppie of Annandale hopped about in blue sneakers, surveyed his vast competition and sniffed, "All it takes is speed. This is gonna be a horse race and I'm Seattle Slew."

Fairfax County Park employe Dough Robinson, the mustachioed prime promoter of the event, was overwhelmed by the throngs of children who appeared yesterday afternoon holding baskets, paper bags and boxes.

"I'm left in the uncomfortable position of having too many kids for too few eggs," he said, shortly before the hunt began.

Undaunted by their tremendous competition, the participants planned a number of hunt strategies ranging from the simple to the devious.

Jeff Koppie, nine year-old Paul Mounier and Mounier's father, Martin developed their game plan thusly: Koppie, who said he was a track star at his school, would streak across the field picking up eggs and dropping them in a paper bag held by Paul, who would follow closely.

Paul would dump the bag into his father's Easter basket, and the elder Mounier would snap photos of the two hunters during the contest.

But most strategies fell apart when the race began. Before Robinson could even finish a breif introductory monologue on his megaphone, youngsters were charging across teh field with camera-laden parents trailing behind.

Robert Hayes, his wife Ann, and their three young children came to Fairfax County four years ago from Stone Mountain, Ga., where they said Easter egg hunts provided the highlight of the holiday.

"They had the hunts arranged in all sorts of age groups," Hayes said. "They were like a town celebration. But it's taken me four years to find one here."

Some parents enjoyed yesterday's hunt more than their children. As the hunt ended, Larry Burns patted his two children on the head, and beamed proudly. "I found eight golfballs," he said. "This was a lot fun." CAPTION: Picture 1, Chris and Kimberly Jones compare Easter baskets; Picture 2, Arelia Brown, 89, leads three younger generations of her family in saying grace at their Easter dinner. Photos by Joel Richardson, The Washington Post; Picture 3, Lisa Damico, left, Kimberly Damico, center, and Erinn Cline race to find hidden, brightly-colored eggs in the Easter egg hunt at Burke Lake Park in Fairfax County. By Margaret Homas The Washington Post