The Symbolism of the Cherry Blossoms

Yoshino cherry blossoms have long been heavy in symbolism in their native Japan. They have come to have their own symbolism here.

Yoshino cherry blossoms have long been heavy in symbolism in their native Japan. They have come to have their own symbolism here (and I don’t just mean the start of tourist season).

I was particularly struck by this reflective and poignant New York Times editorial from April 2, 1939. Hitler’s armies had just annexed Czechoslovakia. The day before, General Franco’s forces had finally conquered Madrid, thus ending the Spanish Civil War. Before the week was out, Benito Mussolini’s army invaded Albania. And much of the world was still in the throes of the Great Depression.

In other world capitals there are trouble and apprehension, but in Washington the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin are in bloom, the President has gone to Warm Springs for a vacation and the national legislators, coming out of session, may look riverward over a city already beginning to grow with green. Spring comes to other capitals. Democracy does not hurry it by a day, nor could a dictatorship hold it back. But comes to Washington, as any observer just now may conclude, with a special grace. For there, at this time of year, in spite of depressions, unemployment and unbalanced budget, one catches sight of a tranquil and expectant America.

Along the paths at the water’s edge, under the blossoms, one may encounter, strolling and unworried, Americans from all the forty-eight States. Young love has not gone out of fashion. Two gentle-faced middle-aged ladies are talking about oppressed humanity, but three high school girls with bicycles have stopped a stranger and asked him to take their picture. Under every tree, on every lawn, this picture-taking process is going on. One hears every one of our national dialects–the clipped New England syllables, the soft Southern consonants, the broader Western speech. Every time of life is represented, from the two little girls sitting high up on a branch of a tree to the elderly lady who sighs and says that she’d be up there with them if she were younger. . . .

In Prague and Warsaw, in Berlin and Rome, in Paris and London Spring must come with a more somber touch. Here no troops parade in field equipment, no spies hang on innocent words, no iron hand shuts off the truth. We can breathe. The cherries are in blossom and the green wave from the South peacefully invades the North.[foot]”Cherry Blossom Time,” New York Times, 2 April 1939, p.72.[/foot]

Want to Help Support DC's Cherry Trees?

If you'd like to help support the care and upkeep of the cherry trees around the Tidal Basin, the Trust for The National Mall has launched an Endow a Cherry Tree Campaign. Donations go to the official Cherry Tree Endowment, which will give the National Park Service additional resources to fund the care, maintenance, and possible replacement of the cherry trees. You can find more information here.

The Trust is dedicated to marshaling private support for maintaining and improving the history National Mall area. I'm not affiliated with the Trust--just an admirer of their efforts.

Last updated December 23, 2015 4:21 pm

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  • Thanks so much.......I'm looking forward to cherry blossoms or anything in bloom after this never ending winter!!

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