In 1912, the people of Japan sent 3,020 cherry trees to the United States as a gift of friendship. First Lady Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese Ambassador, planted the first two trees on the northern bank of the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., and the rest were planted around that inlet, along the Potomac River, and near the Washington Monument. Starting in 1927 and every year since 1934, there has been some kind of spring celebration around the trees, becoming what is now a two-week long, event-packed, city-wide festival that draws over a million visitors. Which is why we never go.
I’m from an anti-crowd sort of family. If there was a big event that a lot of people would be at, chances are we’d be somewhere else. After becoming a parent myself, and living in New York City, and being a parent in New York City, with an especially traumatic experience wrangling a stroller to the top of the Empire State Building, I’ve solidly converted to the no-crowd lifestyle. But there is something about the cherry blossoms. They are SO magical. Now that my kids are out of diapers and strollers, I thought the Cherry Blossom Festival was doable, crowds and all, and I put it on our schedule. Then the flu descended on our house, and peak blossom week passed us by.
Luckily, all was not lost. Since most of the trees are on National Mall and Memorial Parks land, they are technically part of a National Park. Which means there is a Junior Ranger program. While we recovered in various stages at home, I printed off the Cherry Blossom Junior Ranger Activity Book and had my girls complete as much of it as they could without visiting. Together we learned some of the history of the trees and festival, like how the first gift of trees was in 1910, not 1912, but the trees were found to be diseased and infested, so they were all burned. And how in 1938, women gathered to protest the removal of trees for the building of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. Another page had them write haikus; another, learn about the stages of bloom for the blossoms. Finally, the day after the last official day of the Festival, we managed to get ourselves out to see the world-famous cherry blossoms just miles from our home. It actually worked out great. It was raining, so the petals were definitely coming down, but the trees still bore dreamy clouds of pink. Most of the tourists had left town, or at least moved indoors to other, drier, sites. We actually like rain because it lets the girls use such exciting gear as…boots! And…umbrellas! We walked the entire perimeter of the Tidal Basin, taking pictures, splashing in puddles, completing the Junior Ranger books.
Inspired by some of the trees that gracefully hang down over the water, my middle daughter got the idea of writing a story like The Ugly Duckling, but about a cherry tree that didn’t belong in a maple grove, then was replanted over and over until it arrived in Washington, D.C., and saw its own reflection in the water, realizing it belonged here among other cherry trees. She named it The Ugly Sapling, and started work on the text and illustration as soon as we got home. Upon return, we also made origami cherry blossoms and pasted them to a magic marker trunk for a springtime poster in our hall.
What springtime festivals or events are in your town? With Earth Day this week (April 22), take some time with your family to learn about trees, flowers, plants, or other natural gifts spring has to offer.
Blossom Kids – Interactive games, activities, and printables from the National Cherry Blossom Festival, including flash cards for the different varieties and origami instructions
America’s Best Spring Flower Festivals (Fodor’s Travel) – I am so tempted to find my way up to Mackinac Island for the Lilac Festival in June…lilacs AND fudge? Irresistible!
50 Earth Day Activities for Kids (Tinkerlab) – Tin can drums, mud pies, and other recycled or outdoor crafts
TIME for Kids Earth Day – Intelligent articles and slideshows for kids about endangered animals, global warming, and other environmental issues