Picture if you will cherry blossom season Washington DC. Pink petals rain down in flower showers. Gnarled branches trap you in a tree’s embrace. Paint my town pink.
I moved to Washington DC in June 2015 so I have enjoyed five consecutive “cherry blossom seasons” as a Washingtonian. But I don’t know if I would count 2020 as a real season since all the pomp and circumstance disappeared thanks to the covid pandemic. All the “typical” cherry blossom season Washington DC events were cancelled including the Festival’s parade, kite flying and annual ball. The National Park Service urged people not to visit in 2020 due to the “super spreader” risk.
It was a bittersweet time in our nation’s capital. Not only was the cherry blossom season ephemeral; it felt expunged by the virus that was eradicating life as we knew it.
The “new normal” for our 2021 festival means a mix of virtual and socially-distant events.
National Cherry Blossom Festival
The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival returns March 20-April 11, 2021. The Festival invited residents, visitors across the globe to “step into spring” with a diverse range of virtual and live events. March 20 opening ceremony was virtual. From the comfort of a living room, Washingtonians and cherry blossom fans around the globe watched Festival performers from Japan and DC. On display were artistry and spectacle. The event is co-presented with the Japan Foundation.
The festival’s hashtag is #StepIntoSpring.
I plan to BOLT into spring. I can’t wait to escape 12 months of covid misery and revel in one of nature’s most extraordinary gifts. Although April 1-4 was the projected peak for 2021 cherry blossom season, abnormally warm days pushed it up to the last week of March. On March 28, the cherry trees reached peak bloom after temperatures rose well above average after speed through the final stages of the blossom cycle, according to BloomCam.
Luckily tourists listened to the recommendations to stay home and watch virtually so the NPS did not shut down the Tidal Basin. I produced this video of the cherry blossoms at their peak on March 31 during my dawn walk at the Tidal Basin.
Art In Bloom
But I am most excited about the Festival’s scavenger hunt. Washingtonians and visitors must go on the hunt for 25 giant cherry blossom sculptures flourishing throughout the DC area. Everyone is urged to keep Washington DC and its residents safe by wearing their masks and keeping six feet distance from other sculpture hunters. This event starts March 20.
Art in Bloom will feature the artwork of local and national artists. Everyone can engage with the icons for a chance to win prizes. I fully expect at least one sculpture will be hidden in Georgetown and U Street. Check out my articles on these fun neighborhoods to explore.
DC is a city that loves its outdoor sculpture. Back in 2004, there was the Panda Project. You can still find some of the 150 painted pandas purchased by collectors. I love stumbling onto artwork, such as The Giraffe, in a Capitol Hills neighborhood. There are also some of the “Party Animals” still roaming our streets, like this donkey.
Blossom Kite Fly
There is no scene quite as glorious as watching adults and children fly (and yes dogs chase) their kite during the festival’s annual kite flying event on the grounds of the Washington Monument. I videotaped the scene on March 27. My favorite memory is the toddler running away from his dad as he chased a kite up in the sky.
“come fly a kite so high/up to the highest height . . .”
Yes I expect to see Dick Van Dyke dancing a jig on the Washington Monument Grounds, just like a scene out of the Mary Poppins movie.
This year the festival encouraged participants to take to the skies from their own backyard on March 27 and 28 for the annual Blossom Kite Fly. In addition, virtual workshops and demos began on March 15. This was a sure fire way to get and keep your kite in the sky by broadening your kite-making skills.
Pink Tie Party
While you won’t see Washingtonians parading to a luxury hotel for a posh party, the festival organized a Pink Tie Party. The ticket is $100. Proceeds will support local restaurants. It is a digital event.
Dress up at home in your finest springtime attire and party with your pod and other online revelers from all over the world.
It sounds like a great excuse to try the Classic Pink Lady cocktail. Here’s the recipe.
1 1/2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce applejack
1/4 ounce lemon juice (fresh)
2 dashes grenadine
1 egg white
1 maraschino cherry, garnish
The egg white creates the “frothy finish.” It also mimics the flood of floral petals dancing in the air.
Petal Porch Parade
Ok. I desperately wanted the Cherry Blossom Parade to return in 2021 but 12 months just wasn’t enough time to vanquish this enemy. So the Festival calls on Washington’s community spirit to organize its own mini parades (again at a safe distance) within DC neighborhoods.
The goal is for Washingtonians to unleash their creativity (but don’t let the kittens OUT) and bring the spirit of spring to their neighborhood. City residents are asked to decorate their porch, yard or window in the theme of cherry blossoms, pink or springtime. The deadline is March 15 to register your DC area neighborhood.
The inaugural Petal Procession cruise will occur on April 10 and 11.
Petal Porch Parade Touring
But you don’t have to wait for the big event. From March 20 to April 11, you can visit all registered Petal Porches. Lets see cherry blossom creativity blossom!
The Festival will create a virtual map with the locations of all registered Petal Porches. You can safely #StepIntoSpring by planning a walk or drive around multiple DC neighborhoods to see Petal Porch artistry.
The fun concludes on Friday, April 9. Events DC will debut its online National Cherry Blossom Festival Celebration Show. Described as a special “love letter” to blossoms and DC in springtime, the one-hour show will feature Darry Barrymore as the host. Other stars include singer CeCe Winans and Olympic champion ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi.
Washingtonians don’t like to ask our visitors to stay home. But for the safety of residents, 2021 is a year when it is best to participate virtually.
See the blossoming trees from the birds-eye view of BloomCam or enjoy tours of the Tidal Basin from the comfort and safety of your home as the Festival and its partners provide a variety of ways to see the blossoms.
But just watch out in 2022. Hopefully the physical Festival will be back and hotel room rates will skyrocket.
Cherry Blossom History
The original Japanese cherry trees were given to the Taft administration. There are many ancient trees which still can be seen on the Tidal Basin. “The plantings of cherry trees originated in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the People of the United States from the People of Japan. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages,” according to the National Park Service.
“In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, or ‘Sakura,’ is an exalted flowering plant.”
I hope you won’t mind if I share a few of my favorite photos of past cherry blossom seasons in Washington DC.
Postscript: My favorite tree on the Tidal Basin is a spindly weird little tree located near the Jefferson Memorial. Its nicknamed is “Stumpy.” I love to visit this tree during all four seasons. I don’t really know how it is alive given that it has so few branches. But I think it so lovely and asymmetrical. And I marvel how it stands so strong as a beacon. Stay strong. Safe safe.