Every year, spring in Washington, D.C., is marked by one big event: the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The festival is an annual celebration of the longstanding friendship between Japan and the United States. 2021 marks the 109th anniversary of the 1912 gift of cherry blossom trees from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., according to Elliott Ferguson, president and CEO of Destination DC, a nonprofit that markets the city as a major travel and event destination.
This year’s festival, which will take place from March 20 to April 11, will feature a variety of events participants can enjoy from wherever they currently are.
“As the health and safety of everyone is our top priority, the festival will present innovative, entertaining, and engaging hybrid programming designed to incorporate both virtual and personal experiences,” said Diana Mayhew, the festival’s president.
The festival’s opening ceremony will take place March 20, on the festival’s website, according to Mayhew. Former Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi and ABC 7 anchor Michelle Marsh will co-host the ceremony, which will feature performances from artists with ties to both Japan and the U.S., such as tap artist Kazunori Kumagai and the Fukushima Youth Sinfonietta.
The city will be dressed up to celebrate the festival, Mayhew said. City residents can decorate their porches for the Petal Porch Parade on April 10 and 11, and businesses will also don cherry blossom-themed decorations. Additionally, local artists have designed 25 cherry blossom sculptures to distribute throughout the city, which festival-goers can interact with for a chance to win prizes.
Although there won’t be a large, in-person parade this year, there will be a virtual “Paws and Petals Parade” posted to the festival’s Instagram story on April 3, according to a press release. People are encouraged to submit videos of their pets “walking, prancing, doing tricks, and donning costumes” for a chance to be featured in the video.
Additional events include the Blossom Kite Fly on March 27 and 28, where participants can fly kites and share their photos on social media using the hashtags #BlossomKiteFly and #StepIntoSpring. There will also be a virtual 10-mile run participants can complete any time between March 20 and April 11.
Festival planners will be looking at the most recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as local health guidelines to continue evaluating whether there will be opportunities to view the cherry blossoms in person, according to Jeff Reinbold, the National Park Service’s superintendent of the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The NPS is expected to make an announcement regarding this decision in the coming weeks.
However, Reinbold said there are still ways to interact with the cherry blossoms from your own home. The Bloom Cam, which debuted in 2020, gives a 24/7, real-time look at the cherry blossom trees. There will also be a virtual Tidal Basin tour, which allows visitors to venture 3.3 miles around the Tidal Basin without having to leave the comfort of their couch.
The best time to view the blossoms is between April 2 and April 5, Reinbold said. Park service horticulturalists have predicted this year’s peak bloom period, when 70 percent of the blossoms on the cherry trees surrounding the Tidal Basin are open, will take place around this time.
A one-hour Celebration Show, co-hosted by Drew Barrymore and ABC 7 news anchor Alison Starling, will mark the end of the festival. The program will include performances by Grammy-winning gospel artist CeCe Winans, violinist Lindsey Stirling and 2020 American Idol winner Samantha Diaz. It will premiere on Events DC’s virtual Gather platform on April 9 at 8 p.m. and will be syndicated nationally through April, May and June on WJLA-TV, said Events DC’s president and CEO, Gregory O’Dell.
“Everyone knows that with spring comes the National Cherry Blossom Festival,” said John Falcicchio, the city’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development. “And while this year it will not be safe for thousands of people to gather as we have in years past, our residents and other Americans can still fully embrace the beauty and rich history of the cherry blossoms.”