National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC-2023 Events and History
The National Cherry Blossom Festival attracts a worldwide audience to celebrate the blooming of nearly 3,700 cherry blossom trees planted around the Tidal Basin and East Potomac Park. The festival events attracts millions of visitors and creates billions of social media impressions. Here’s what you should know about Washington’s pink petal party.
How did the trees come to be? Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore was a world traveler who saw the glorious explosion of pink and white petals during her visit to Japan. Inspired, she appealed to the federal government to plant Japanese cherry blossom trees along the Potomac River waterfront. First Lady Helen Taft supported the idea, and Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted 2,000 Yoshino cherry trees to the United States. The official planting took place on March 27, 1912 with few in attendance besides Helen Taft and the Japanese ambassador. Taft became the first presidential spouse to observe the Japanese tradition of “hanami” or flower watching, but first ladies from Mamie Eisenhower to Michelle Obama continued this cherished rite of spring as honorary chairs of the Cherry Blossom Festival.
When was the first Cherry Blossom Festival? For 111 years, Washington DC has celebrated the blooming of the cherry trees in solidarity with Japan, but it wasn’t until 1927 that a few local schoolchildren and the US Navy Band reenacted the planting of “the gift of trees,” now considered the first Cherry Blossom Festival. Since then, the Festival has grown into a four week celebration beginning March 20 – the first official day of spring – and ending April 16, 2023.
When will the trees bloom? Peak bloom, or the period when the cherry blossoms reach their puffiest and prettiest, is expected early this year, possibly on March 1! Check out my photo above of last year’s bloom. Warmer temperatures in the late winter into early spring bring the blossoms out earlier. The flowers generally last a week or two–but in recent decades, the blooms are trending earlier. You can check the bloom-cam at CherryBlossomWatch.com to see how the trees around the Tidal Basin are progressing.
What is the highlight of the festival? I love the National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade! Marching bands, dance teams, the US state’s cherry blossom ambassadors, and floats parade along Constitution Avenue. Look for the iconic pandas, Japanese lanterns and pink flowers.
What are the other signature events? The festival features 16 days of free performances at the Tidal Basin and the popular Paws & Petals pet comfort station. Everyone can participate in the Blossom Kite Festival. On April 15 and 16, the Japanese Street Festival, Sakura Matsuri, with its Ginza Marketplace on Pennsylvania Avenue. For more details visit Cherry Blossom Festival events list.
Schedule of 2023 Events
- Opening Ceremony: Saturday, March 25, 2023
- Kite Festival: Saturday, March 25, 2023
- Parade: Saturday, April 15, 2023
- PetalPalooza: Saturday, April 8, 2023
Even if you miss out on the events or peak bloom in DC, check out the trees planted throughout the metropolitan area. Virginia and Maryland have beautiful plantings too in McCrillis Gardens and Brookside Gardens in Maryland. The US National Arboretum and around the US Capitol in DC, and in Virginia, the George Washington Parkway and the Mount Vernon Trail, and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Learn more about cherry blossom experiences in Alexandria at VisitAlexandria.com/CherryBlossoms and find a list of cherry blossom tours, special events and food and drink offerings below.
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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.
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