By Katy Kelly
Come mid-March, the cherry blossoms are blooming, the birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and life is good in the District. The Cherry Blossom Festival has become a staple of life in Washington D.C., bringing locals and tourists together to enjoy the cherry trees as they enter full bloom.
But this festival is so much more than just trees with pink blossoms and springtime entertainment.
The Cherry Blossom Festival has a rich history, and is deeply rooted in Washingtonian culture. The origins of the festival trace back to 1912 when the city accepted 3,000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo. The gift is symbolic of the esteemed, and long-lasting friendship between the United States and Japan. However, getting these trees to thrive in American soil was no easy task. At first, the Japanese sent over 2,000 cherry trees, but they were diseased and did not last long on the Tidal Basin.
As both countries were committed to this grand symbol of international friendship, they coordinated with each other to arrange for 3,000 more trees to cross the Pacific. It took the efforts of First Lady Helen Herron Taft, David Fairchild from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, world-renowned chemist Jokichi Takamine and the first female board member for the National Geographic Society, Eliza Scidmore. With their combined efforts, 3,000 cherry trees made their way across the Pacific and planted in the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. The first couple of trees were planted by the First Lady and wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States on March 27, 1912. Since this initial planting of the trees, it has become a tradition that the First Lady be involved in the ceremonial aspects of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
The Cherry Blossom Festival has evolved into an extravagant event over the years and is now one of the most popular events in D.C. attracting thousands of tourists who flock to the district to see the cherry trees, listen to great music, eat delicious food and watch the parade.
Nora Strumpf, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Blossom Festival, said 2016 is particularly special. “This year we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of kite flying on the National Mall on [April 2]. We are doing a big push for celebrating kite flying, an important tradition of the festival.”
Strumpf added that this is also an important festival because it is the celebration of the centennial for the National Park Service. The NPS works to provide our nation with clean, free, beautiful parks across the country, and this year the festival is helping to celebrate their 100th anniversary. “It is important to recognize that because they are the ones who maintain the trees down at the Tidal Basin,” Strumpf said.
“My personal favorite part is the parade,” Strumpf said. “We always have great performances and it is just a lot of fun. This year we are having Jersey Boys, and the Redskins cheerleaders will also perform.”
The festival also incorporates some aspects of Japanese culture into the festivities. An event called Cherry Blast, taking place on April 16 at Carnegie Library at Mount Vernon Square, will offer games, anime, music and much more to celebrate the modern Japanese pop culture.
The Cherry Blossom Festival is much more than a celebration of cherry trees. It commemorates a long-time friendship with a U.S. ally. It brings people together through food, music, dancing, games, and of course the cherry trees. It truly is one of the best times of the year to be a Washingtonian.