One of the top events in Washington, one that draws half a million visitors annually, is the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which this year opens Easter Sunday and runs through April 7.
The festival celebrates springtime and the blooming of the more than 6,000 Japanese cherry trees planted in city parks and along the Tidal Basin. The first trees arrived in 1912 as a gift from Japan to symbolize the friendship between the two countries. The first tree was planted in March of that year by first lady Helen Herron Taft in a small ceremony that included the wife of the Japanese ambassador. The first festival was not held until 1935 and since then the event has grown in scope and popularity. Today it is a week-long celebration with ceremonies, concerts, a banquet and ball, fireworks and a parade that is the largest spectator event in the nation's capital.
The opening ceremony will take place next Sunday at 4 p.m. with the lighting of the 300-year-old Japanese Stone Lantern, located near Independence Avenue N.W. in the Tidal Basin area. The ceremony is free to the public. The following day there will be a welcoming reception at Freedom Plaza, 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W., from noon until 2 p.m. Fifty-five cherry blossom princesses, one from each state and U.S. territory, will be greeted and introduced to the public. A luncheon and fashion show will be held April 2 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel at 11:30 a.m. Proceeds will benefit Barbara Bush's literacy program.
A paddleboat regatta, a zany, fun race involving cherry blossom princesses of past years, is scheduled in the Tidal Basin April 3 at 3 p.m. The next day a luncheon cruise for the new princesses will take place aboard the Spirit of Washington from noon to 2 p.m. The cruise departs Pier 4, Sixth and Water streets S.W. The cost is $25. The grand ball and banquet is set for April 5 at the Grand Hyatt. During this event one of the princesses will be crowned queen of the festival by the Japanese ambassador. The highlight of the week will be the festival parade on April 6 down Constitution Avenue at 12:30 p.m. TV weatherman Willard Scott will serve as grand marshal for this year's parade, which features lavish floats, gigantic helium balloons and marching bands from around the country. Grandstand seats are available at $10 each through Ticketron, (800) 448-9009. The festival will close April 7 with an afternoon of free family entertainment at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The agenda includes musical entertainment, Japanese dance performances, martial arts demonstrations, visits by the Cherry Blossom princesses and radio personalities and food. Pentagon City is at Interstate 395 and Army-Navy Drive and South Hayes Street.
Throughout the week there will be concerts at noon and at twilight in various parks throughout the city.
For a complete schedule, call (202) 737-2599.
Next weekend's calendar is jammed with Easter events and fun for children. Easter Day could begin well before dawn with a trip to Emmittsburg, where you can attend an Easter sunrise service at the Grotto of Lourdes, the first national Catholic shrine in the country. An ecumenical service will be held at 6:30 a.m. with music provided by the 100-voice Emmittsburg Community Chorus. Mass follows at 7:30 a.m. The grotto is six miles north of Thurmont on Grotto Road. Call (301) 447-6122.
Later in the day special activities are planned at Winterthur Museum and Gardens in Winterthur, Del., from noon to 5 p.m. Festivities begin with an Easter parade from the visitor pavilion to the garden, where children can join the Easter Bunny in an egg hunt and various Easter games. Puppet shows will be presented in the Copeland lecture hall at 2:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. In the museum's "Touch It" room children can play with toys and examine other objects from the 18th and 19th centuries. A holiday brunch will be available in the garden cafeteria from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reservations are advised. Call (302) 888-4826.
Admission is $6 for adults, $2 for ages 6 to 11, free for under 6. There is an additional charge for museum tours. For information, call (800) 448-3883 or (302) 888-4600.
During Easter weekend the 96th Pennsylvania Infantry will be at Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg. Described as one of the most authentic living history groups in the country, this Union infantry unit was chosen as the park's "living history group of the year."
The group specializes in demonstrations of Civil War tactics, drill and camp life and its talks focus on the role of Germans in the war, since the original unit was largely made up of German immigrants.
On Saturday the camp will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. with programs on "The Soldier Life in the Army of the Potomac" at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. and "Ethnics at War: The Germans of the 96th Pennsylvania" at 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. On Sunday the camps will be open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and programs are scheduled at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Admission to the park is $1 for ages 17 to 62, free to others.
The annual Easter sunrise service will be held at the battlefield at 6 a.m. Sponsored by the combined churches of Sharpsburg, the ecumenical service will take place in the observation room of the visitors center. For information, call (301) 432-5124.
The Catoctin Mountain Zoological Park near Thurmont opens for the season at 9 a.m. on Saturday. Opening day coincides with the annual Easter egg hunt from 10 a.m. to noon. About 4,000 eggs will be hidden over 12 acres of the park. An egg hunt for ages 2 to 5 begins at 10 a.m.; a second hunt for children in grade 1 and up begins at 11 a.m. There will be prizes awarded in various age groups and a marionette show following the hunt. The Easter Bunny, clowns, balloons and baby animals are other attractions. Admission for the egg hunt is $3 per person until noon. Regular zoo admission is $5.75 for adults, $4.25 for ages 2 to 12, free for under 2. The park is on Route 15, 12 miles north of Frederick. For information, call (301) 271-7488.
The Easter weekend in Maryland's state parks will be noted with egg hunts and sunrise services. Egg hunts will be held on Saturday at Rocky Gap Sate Park in Flintstone, (301) 777-2138; Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, (301) 872-5688; Smallwood State Park in Marbury, (301) 743-7613; Martinak State Park in Denton, (301) 479-1619; and Elk Neck State Park in North East, (301) 287-5333. Herrington Manor State Park in Oakland will host an egg hunt on Easter day at 2 p.m. for ages 12 and under; call (301) 334-9180.
Easter sunrise services are scheduled at Rocky Gap State Park, Point Lookout State Park and Rocks State Park in Jarrettsville, call (301) 557-7994.