A brief history of the Cherry Blossom Festival

Freshman Jennifer Durina attended the Cherry Blossom Festival with her roommate for the first time on Sunday. For three hours they did homework by the water, had a picnic, enjoyed an a cappella performance, walked through the trees and visited a Japanese tea garden booth.

“I decided to go because the weather was so gorgeous, and I couldn’t stand being locked in my room doing homework.” Durina said. “My favorite part of the day was when the singers in front of the Jefferson Memorial sang the Backstreet Boys’ ‘I Want It That Way,’ and my roommate and I sang along.”

The festival, just blocks from GW, originated more than 100 years ago with the ceremonial planting of two cherry trees.

First lady Helen Harron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the two trees – gifts from the Japanese government – around the Tidal Basin in March 1912. The purpose of the ceremony was to honor the relationship between the United States and Japan.

In 1915, the United States government presented flowering dogwood trees, the state flower of Virginia, to the people of Japan before the first official cherry blossom festival was held in 1935.

Thirty years later, first lady Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 more trees, and in 1981, cuttings from the cherry trees in Washington were given to the Japanese to replace trees destroyed in a flood.

The festival was expanded in 1994, and it now hosts one million people during two weeks of events, according to the festival’s official Web site. The events include a parade, a kite festival, a sushi and sake tasting, a fireworks show and daily cultural performances on the Tidal Basin stage.

“It reminds us of the gift of friendship and peace given almost one hundred years ago,” said Danielle Piacente, the festival’s publicist. “The fleeting blossoms and their beauty continue to bridge the cultural divide by bringing people from across the world together in D.C., and their historical significance reminds people of cultural tolerance and peace.”

Although the events change every year, Piacente says the festival has “morphed” and this year will even include a free yoga class on the Tidal Basin from Lululemon, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company.

But for students it is a chance to enjoy the arrival of spring.

Sophomore Morgan Manousos has attended the events two years in a row and hopes to try the paddleboats in the Tidal Basin this year after already attending singing and dance performances.

“To me, the festival is the beginning of spring,” Manousos said. “I welcome all the warm weather I can get in D.C., and also all the sunshine and flowers in D.C. around this time of year make going to class much more enjoyable.”

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