The National Cherry Blossom Festival returns in-person on March 20. Courtesy of the National Cherry Blossom Festival

By Southwester Staff

The National Cherry Blossom Festival is bringing back its celebrated in-person events this year, but with added safety precautions. With vaccinations and natural immunity to COVID-19 on the rise after the Omicron variant swept through the District, the Festival is ready to revive the events in a “safe and responsible” way with its opening day on Sunday, March 20, according to President and CEO Diana Mayhew.

Last fall, Mayor Muriel Bowser, announced that the District “is open and that means that the National Cherry Blossom Festival is back in person.” Those remarks came on November 9. Only weeks later, on November 24, the Omicron variant was first reported to the World Health Organization. The first Omicron case was discovered in DC on December 12. 

Bowser’s remarks stood in stark contrast to last year’s “hybrid” model festival, as The Southwester previously reported. Washingtonians have been looking forward to the much-hyped return to normal. Mayhew said this year’s events represent that return “one step at a time.”

Attendees are “encouraged” to be vaccinated against COVID-19 per Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, according to the Festival website. In addition, guests at specific venues may be subject to requirements put in place by operators or other authorities. Masking “may be recommended or required where social distancing is not possible,” the site adds. Mayhew stressed to The Southwester that the Festival is working directly with the DC Department of Health and the National Park Service (NPS) to monitor the virus and make adjustments to health protocols as necessary. 

Mayhew is not worried about the arrival of visitors from states or countries where health guidelines may be less strict than those being observed during the Festival. The District “deals with this every single day,” she said. Her organization will aim to “help communicate what those guidelines are” and ask people to be “as safe and responsible as possible.”

This year’s historic event marks the 110th anniversary of Japan’s gift of trees in 1912. The “Sakura,” or the flowering cherry tree, has important symbolism in Japan, according to the NPS website. The trees have helped the District mark the transition to springtime for over a century. This annual moment of “hope and renewal,” said Mayhew, has added significance this year.

The opening ceremony on March 20 will feature a performance from the Minyo Crusaders, a “10-piece band that combine[s] Japanese traditional folk songs, Minyo, with various rhythms from Latin, Afro-Cuban, and Afro-Caribbean music,” according to the Festival website. Musicians Keisho Ohno and Toshihiro Yuta, as well as Samurai Artist KAMUI, will also be performing. For the opening ceremony, masks are required in addition to proof of vaccine or negative COVID-19 test.

This year’s festival will also see the return of the Blossom Kite Festival, National Cherry Blossom Parade, Petalpalooza, and more. The Pink Tie Dinner Party is returning “in a new format showcasing an exclusive, intimate fundraiser celebration,” the Festival website says.

The Festival is always looking to make its new events part of a plan for growth rather than a “one off,” Mayhew explained. As a result, the Petal Porches that marked last year’s hybrid event, when the “community became a part of the Festival,” will be on display again this year from March 20 until April 11. This and other programs are a way to bring “joy” and “celebration” to the city in all eight wards. Hundreds have already registered for this year’s Petal Procession.

Mayhew wants to offer “something at different comfort levels” this year, so there will be a variety of events for those more or less ready to return to large public gatherings. A full line-up of events can be found on the Festival’s website (https://nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/). Prospective attendees are also strongly encouraged to sign up for the organization’s email updates and monitor the website. The Southwester will be following these updates closely and will keep the neighborhood informed.

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