The 2013 National Cherry Blossom Festival began last week, and there’s plenty of time to join the celebration. Held every year in Washington, D.C., this event has a storied history. It began with a modest ceremony at the Tidal Basin on March 27, 1912, when First Lady Helen Herron “Nellie” Taft and Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Japanese ambassador, planted the first two trees. The remaining trees were placed around the Tidal Basin and elsewhere in Washington.
Since then, the event has become a D.C. tradition. As the National Cherry Blossom Festival’s official history explains, the nation’s first ladies have long been involved in the joyous occasion.
Historically, many were involved in events through the National Conference of State Societies’ Princess Program. First Lady Mamie Eisenhower crowned Queen Janet Bailey in 1953, and in 1976 Betty Ford invited the princesses to the White House. In 1965, First Lady Lady Bird Johnson accepted 3,800 Yoshino trees from the government of Japan and held a tree planting reenactment. All first ladies in recent years have served as Honorary Chair, many participating as well. In 1999, First Lady Hillary Clinton took part in a tree planting ceremony. In 2001, First Lady Laura Bush greeted guests with remarks at the Opening Ceremony. Honorary Chair First Lady Michelle Obama was involved in 2012, planting a cherry tree in West Potomac Park among dignitaries and guests.
As the years have passed, the festival has grown exponentially.
The Festival was expanded to two weeks in 1994 to accommodate a diverse activity schedule during the blooming period. Over the years, millions have participated in Festival events and viewed the flowering cherry trees. In 2012, the Festival expanded to five weeks (from 16 days in recent previous years) to provide a grand tribute to the 100-year anniversary of the gift of trees. Today, more than 1.5 million people visit Washington, DC each year to admire the blossoming cherry trees and participate in diverse programming that heralds spring in the nation’s capital.
The 2012 Cherry Blossom Centennial Forever® stamps (and many related philatelic products, like this beautiful print) are still available from The Postal Store. (Forever® stamps are always equal in value to the current First-Class Mail® one-ounce rate.)