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DC’s Harbinger of Spring: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

Tidal Basin 1

DC’s Harbinger of Spring: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

If you’re looking forward to welcoming spring (and who isn’t?), consider yourself lucky. As a Thompson-Markward Hall resident, you’re at the epicenter of one of the nation’s most beloved spring celebrations, the National Cherry Blossom Festival. The breathtaking beauty of more than 3,500 cherry trees in bloom in the nation’s capital is the crowning glory of springtime and a sight to behold. 

The 2021 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled between March 20 and April 11, 2020. The National Park Service predicts this year’s peak bloom will happen between April 2 – April 5, 2021, with the peak bloom date being the days on which 70 percent of the blossoms of the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin are open. The Park Service will post updates based on the weather and the bloom stages’ progression and safety precautions regarding the pandemic.

It all started with a simple ceremony on March 27, 1912, when First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda, the Japanese Ambassador’s wife to the U.S., planted the first two trees in West Potomac Park. The first cherry blossom festival didn’t occur until 1935 and has evolved over the decades from a modest celebration to an expanded 23-day festival featuring diverse events.

The Beloved Tradition Adjusts to the Pandemic

Like so many other aspects of our lives, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival has been affected by the pandemic. But this spectacular and colorful 86-year old salute to spring has made adjustments, converting many of the scheduled events to a virtual platform. Thanks to technology, you can see the spectacular blooms and participate in the festivities from anywhere in the world. 

Beyond Beautiful Blooms to Opportunities for Young Women

While much of the focus is understandably on the beautiful cherry blossoms, the festival also includes a unique opportunity for young women. A week-long program—The Cherry Blossom Princess Program—provides cultural, educational, and professional development opportunities for young women leaders, ages 19 through 24, from across the United States and worldwide. 

Applicants are selected by a State/Territorial Society or International Embassy to be Cherry Blossom Princesses based on their leadership and academic achievements and their interest in social, civic, community, and world affairs. As part of the program, they engage with top government, business, arts, and media leaders. 

The program, founded in 1948, is a cultural exchange program honoring the friendship fostered by the gift of the cherry blossom trees to the United States from Japan over a century ago. Each year, a US Cherry Blossom Queen is selected among the class and can visit Japan on a goodwill tour to celebrate the friendship between the United States and Japan. 

Several former Thomson-Markward Hall residents have been involved in the Cherry Blossom Princess Program over the years, and two remain closely associated with the program. The alumni network of women leaders who participated in the program spans across the globe. It comprises executives and entrepreneurs in many fields, including government, business, media, education, and the arts. Two current U.S. Senators, the Honorable Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia and the Honorable Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are alumni.

Bloom Watch

It all begins with the festival namesake, the cherry blossoms. Everyone can watch the blooms on the Bloom Cam and even tour the Tidal Basin, with a brief video featuring a National Park Service ranger sharing the history and secrets of the iconic landmarks that grace the Tidal Basin area.

The award-winning City in Bloom campaign heralds the treasured festival, featuring special lighting, decals, and signage to visually welcome the festival and the many fun events it includes.

Art in Bloom

This community-wide visual arts exhibition includes 26 oversized cherry blossom statues painted by local artists and placed in all eight wards of the District, plus Maryland’s National Harbor and the Aurora Highlands National Landing neighborhoods in Northern Virginia.

Not only can you see the artwork, but everyone’s also encouraged to participate in a Blossom Hunt—locating the sculptures, posting a photo to Instagram or Twitter, tagging the Festival, and using #artinbloom in the caption. At the end of the display period, the Festival will randomly select winners of Festival prize packages. The more you post, the more you increase your chance of winning.

Walk, Run, Fly a Kite, or Join the Festivities on Your Device

While the pandemic may limit the number of people who can attend the festival, the celebrations include a combination of smaller, in-person events and remote events.

There are celebrations scheduled to take place in the District and surrounding communities. There’s something for everyone, including: 

Pop-Up Street Theatre in nearby Arlington, Virginia

Movies of drive-in baseball-themed movies at Capitol Riverfront

Downtown DC’s Chalkwalk, a 3D art installation

A Petal Porch Parade

The Blossom Kite Fly

A virtual run

The Paws and Petals Parade

There are many opportunities to share this iconic symbol of spring with your fellow residents at Thomas-Markward Hall. Happy spring!

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