The sight of cherry trees in full bloom often brings a feeling of warmth and happiness to all who see them. For some, the cherry blossoms represent an emergence from winter and signal the start of spring—a season synonymous with a sense of renewal, longer days and warmer weather. For others, cherry trees and their blossoms are reminders of the historical significance the cherry trees represent in our collective and shared experiences as a nation. Whatever your reason is for appreciating these beautiful flowers, there’s no denying that the blooming of cherry blossoms has become a highly anticipated event throughout the U.S., as demonstrated by the many festivals established to celebrate and commemorate the historical significance of these trees and to draw attention to their lovely blossoms.
To fully understand and appreciate the historical significance of the cherry blossom in the U.S., one only needs to visit Washington, D.C., which hosts the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The idea of planting flowering cherry trees in Washington, D.C. is credited to Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore, an intrepid explorer, writer, photographer, geographer and first female board member of the National Geographic Society, who got the idea after a trip to Japan in 1885. Upon her return to the U.S., Scidmore worked for years lobbying for the trees. Eventually in 1909, the idea was accepted by First Lady Helen H. Taft. However, the pair faced several setbacks along the way, including the first shipment of 2,000 donated cherry trees that were found to be diseased and infested with insects, resulting in all but a few of the trees being destroyed. Undeterred, in 1912, Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo donated 3,020 cherry trees on behalf of his city to Washington, D.C. The shipment contained several different varieties of cherry trees, and upon inspection by the Department of Agriculture, were accepted.
On March 27, 1912, First Lady Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees from Japan on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. As time passed, the U.S. and Japan continued the tradition of exchanging gifts. In 1915, the U.S. gifted Japan and its citizens with flowering dogwood trees. And in 1981, the U.S. gifted Japan with cuttings taken from the very trees Japan had donated to the U.S. previously, to be used to replace certain cherry trees that were destroyed during a Japanese flood. These gifts and the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival demonstrate, celebrate and honor the longstanding friendship and close ties the two nations share.
For the past 105 years, cherry blossoms have remained a much-anticipated sight, and the celebration of the blooming of these trees continues to grow each year. The festival, which is in its 90th year, attracts more than 1.5 million people of all ages each year.
“The National Cherry Blossom Festival includes four weeks of events featuring diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty and community spirit,” says Nora Strumpf, who coordinates the public relations and media for the festival.
This year’s festival, which takes place from March 15 through April 16, began at the Tidal Basin Welcome Area and ANA Performance Stage to coincide with the blooming period. The Tidal Basin Welcome Center and ANA Performance Stage, in conjunction with the National Park Service, will also offer free daily performances from March 15 to April 2. The festival’s schedule of events includes many exciting and fun things to do. For example, on Saturday, March 25, world-class talent from the U.S. and Japan will kick off the festival at the opening ceremony at the Warner Theatre; the Blossom Kite Festival will take place on April 1; and the parade, which is presented by Events DC on Saturday, April 8, will feature performances, celebrity entertainment, floats, giant balloons and more. In addition, the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run & 5K Run-Walk on April 2; the Southwest Waterfront Fireworks Festival on April 15; Cinematsuri, the Japanese Film Festival from March 19 to March 30; the Anacostia River Festival on Sunday, April 9; and Cherry Blast on April 14 are not to be missed. Most importantly, don’t forget to spend some quality time admiring the many cherry blossoms by via bicycle, foot or boat tour.
Visitors to our nation’s capital are sure to get their fill of the color pink while in town. In addition to the pink-colored blooms, iconic buildings and transportation hubs are lit in pink to celebrate the festival. Bright pink blossom decals can also be spotted throughout the city at area businesses and organizations, as well as on cars and in storefronts, and more than 60 restaurants are offering spring-inspired menus during the festival.
While the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C. is definitely the most well-known celebration of these springtime flowers, there are many other cherry blossom festivals taking place throughout the U.S. Here’s a sampling of a few worth checking out:
Sakura Matsuri (Brooklyn, New York): This cherry blossom festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which takes place April 29 and April 30, 2017, will offer more than 60 events and performances that celebrate traditional and contemporary Japanese culture.
International Cherry Blossom Festival (Macon, Georgia): From March 24th through April 2nd, visitors can admire the more than 300,000 Yoshino cherry trees’ blooms, as well as enjoy a parade, concerts and live music, and more at this Georgia city, which is known as the Cherry Blossom Capital of the World.
Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival (Nashville, Tennessee): On Saturday, April 8th, this 9th annual festival will celebrate spring and Japanese culture with a wide range of entertainment options. Plus, exhibitors and vendors will offer visitors the chance to view and purchase Japanese merchandise, artwork and more.
Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (San Francisco): Celebrating its 50th year, the cherry blossom festival, which takes place April 8th to April 9th and April 15th to April 16th, showcases Japanese culture and the diversity of the Japanese-American community. In addition to food booths, the festival will feature cultural performances, martial arts, live bands and a parade to conclude the celebration.
Mark your calendars and be sure to take part in one of the many cherry blossom festivals taking place around the country this year. Cherry blossoms are not only pretty to look at and admire, but they represent a new season and a sense of renewal. It’s floral therapy at its finest!
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