This winter has seen some unusual weather in the Washington area, and during February some of the earlier spring bloomers have already begun to awaken. This is primarily due to the milder temperatures many days in the region have seen over the past month.
As February comes to a close and the foliage comes back to life, many locals and travelers begin to think about Washington D.C.'s annual Cherry Blossom Festival and the celebration that takes place, optimally when weather cooperates, during peak flowering.
This year Washington is hosting an extended festival to celebrate a century of cherry blossoms and friendship. It was 100 years ago this year Japan's Mayor Yukio Ozaki presented a gift of 3,000 cherry trees to the U.S.
This exquisite gift was offered as a way to honor the ongoing friendship between the U.S. and Japan. The annual festival serves as a memento and celebration of the continued alliance between the two nations.
Instead of the usual 16-day commemoration event, this year the festival events will last five weeks beginning on March 20 and will run through Apr. 27, 2012.
The festival traditionally showcases Opening Ceremony, Family Day, and the popular annual fireworks and parade. Additionally there are cultural performances, tree-planting ceremonies, the Blossom Kite Festival, the Sakura Matsuri - Japanese Street Festival and much more. This year is no exception, however, the 2012 special celebration also highlights some signature events. Many events are free, but some do cost admission.
Looking down on the Tidal Basin during peak cherry blossoms in Washington DC
The Washington Post Local reported in Sept. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said, "Each year the world pauses, and certainly this city pauses, to celebrate the beauty of the Japanese cherry blossoms. . . . This celebration, and this event, is not just about the gift of trees. It is really about the gift of friendship — an enduring friendship over almost now 100 years.”
“When Japan made the gesture of goodwill on March 27, 1912,” Gray said, “I don’t think anyone could have known that this was creating a national treasure for generations of Americans and visitors from around the world.”
And it has. Each year over a million people flock to Washington to see these beautiful blossoms and enjoy the festivities taking place around the Tidal Basin.
Ichiro Fujisaki, Japanese ambassador to the United States had told the Post, “I’m so . . . excited. I feel like an 8-year-old boy. There are many things good in Washington, [but the festival] “is the very best, because it’s nothing but beauty and friendship.”
Locals often take a day off work and hop into Washington to take in the blossoms. Visitors often plan their spring break trips to the nation's capital city to spend time admiring the blossoms and enjoying the festivities, along with the usual historical and landmark sights.
A view of the Jefferson Memorial during the annual cherry blossom festival in 2009
Each year thousands of people can be observed along the National Mall and Potomac River photographing the blossoms and/or strolling the riverside. Wandering through the myriad of cherry blossom trees, it is not uncommon to see both professional and amateur photographers trying to capture that perfect close-up image.
Photographer capturing the beauty of the cherry blossoms
According to the Washington Business Journal, D.C. officials are hoping this year's centennial festival boosts local tourism; reportedly this year's budget is about $4 million, which is three times the cost of the 2011 festivities.
If planning to visit during blossom season, note the weekends see the heaviest traffic and getting around may include inching the way through crowds. Parking in Washington DC is often difficult during the warmer weather, and high traffic during the festival can be expected; it's a good idea to plan accordingly. The Metro is an option, but note the trains also see heavier than usual traffic during cherry blossom season.
However, don't let the crowds be a deterrent. The thousands of cherry blossoms are truly extraordinary, especially during years where the blossoms are in full bloom during the festivities, and with an extended festival, this year can't miss the timing.