National Cherry Blossom Festival begins Saturday

The National Cherry Blossom Festival begins Saturday, kicking off spring by celebrating the blossoming trees that draw more than 1 million visitors to the District annually.

The 16-day event, a tradition that spans nearly a century, marks Japan’s 1912 donation of more than 3,000 cherry trees to the District. The trees are planted along the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial, symbolizing friendship between the two nations.

In the wake of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami, organizers posted an American Red Cross donation link to the festival’s official website and will host a Stand With Japan event Thursday evening at the Washington Monument.

Opening ceremonies, scheduled for Saturday at the National Building Museum, include musical and dance performances and fireworks at the southwest waterfront April 2.

Floats and marching bands will line the streets during a parade April 9, the second to last day of the festival.

Peak bloom dates – when 70 percent of trees are blossoming – are forecasted to last from March 29 to April 1, according to the festival’s official website. Most petals are expected to fall by April 7, according to National Park Service horticulturists.

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