How to celebrate cherry blossom season at home
The cherry blossom festival has been an important part of the Japanese culture for centuries, but it has also captured the imagination of many outside Japan. This ancient tradition is becoming increasingly international, as countries join in the celebration of an amazing natural miracle – the flowering of fruit trees in early spring. Places outside Japan, known for their cherry blossom festivities, include Washington and several other American cities, Berlin, Hamburg, London and Paris. In the UK there is now a Blossom Watch run by the National Trust, with a map recording the sightings of blossom and a popular hashtag #BlossomWatch.
It is worth adopting this lovely custom, and celebrating the blossom and the arrival of spring wherever you are. And this is not just because we are now unable to travel to Japan, due to COVID restrictions. The beauty of nature should be celebrated everywhere and making time to enjoy it can enrich our lives.
A cherry blossom festival has a place in any country where spring follows a cold and dark winter. It is a way of appreciating the beauty of seasons and living in harmony with seasonal cycles.
So here are some ideas for celebrating this lovely event wherever you are. But first let’s remind ourselves about the Japanese cherry blossom festival.
Cherry blossom festival in Japan
The Japanese cherry blossom festival is known as hanami. It is a tradition that originated at the Japanese imperial court and became prominent in the 8th century. Eighth-century aristocrats spent a lot of time enjoying the beauty of flowering trees and celebrating it with poetry, music and painting.
The festival has a deep philosophical significance in Japanese culture. Since cherries flower for such a short time, it is an occasion for contemplating transience and the fleeting beauty of life.
Though originally limited to the imperial court, the cherry blossom festival was embraced by the entire Japanese society. Today people celebrate it with family, friends and co-workers by having feasts under flowering trees.
Cherry blossom can be compared to a wave that gradually travels from south to north. In the south of Japan trees bloom already in January and February. The pink wave reaches Tokyo and Kyoto at the end of March and continues to move north until the middle of May.
As soon as the flowering starts, Japanese meteorological services announce the beginning of the festive season and closely follow the progress of the ‘cherry blossom front’. They constantly update the public on where and when the flowering is about to start, creating an atmosphere of joyful expectation and excitement.
Japan has amazing plantings of cherries in parks, gardens, town centres, around canals and lakes. Decorative cherries come in different shades of white and pink, and in an amazing variety of forms. Japanese breeders excelled in preserving traditional varieties and developing new exquisite cultivars.
How to celebrate cherry blossom at home
1. Blossom viewing
Watch cherries bloom. The most important part of the celebrations in Japan is viewing blossoming cherries and spending time in parks and gardens where they grow. Do the same and go for walks to places where they bloom. Enjoy their short-lived beauty and take some photographs.
On a warm day have a picnic under a flowering cherry as they do in Japan. Look at numerous online photographs of people feasting in parks in Japan and make them your inspiration. A picnic can be an elaborate affair, but all you really need is a rug and some food and drink.
3. Garden party
If you have a garden with a flowering cherry, have a meal or drinks with your family and friends in the garden to celebrate its beauty. Some cherries flower very early, but the majority bloom at 17-18C, so there should be days when it is enjoyable to eat outside.
In Japan the cherry festival is very much about spending time with people, and any time of the day is a good time. People sit under flowering trees during the day, but feasting continues well into the night. Viewing cherries after 6pm, in a romantic atmosphere of a spring evening, is very popular.
4. Lights in the garden
Decorate your garden. In Japan blossoming cherries are skilfully illuminated in the evening with lights and traditional paper lanterns. You could do the same and decorate your garden with lights. We have a string of multicoloured lights around the boundary of our garden that is powered by a small solar battery. It charges during the day and comes on automatically at dusk.
If you have a meal or drinks outside in the evening, decorate the garden table with candles in storm lanterns.
5. Flower arrangements
Decorate the house and practice an ancient Japanese art of flower arrangement (ikebana). Put some flowering cherry branches in vases around the house and on the table. The decorations can be effortless – a simple bowl with water and floating cherry flowers can look beautiful.
6. Japanese meal
Make or buy Japanese food and drinks.
7. Cherry deserts
But a cherry blossom celebration does not have to be themed around Japanese traditions. It is first of all about the arrival of spring and about cherry, its beauty and usefulness.
At this time of the year cherries are available in the form of dried and glacéed fruit, jams and preserves, but much can be done with these. There are plenty of recipes, including cherry ice-cream, cherry sauce, different cherry cakes and chocolates. If you bake, use dried cherries instead of raisins in bread and muffins. There are also pink and white cream and mousse deserts that looks like clouds of cherry blossom.
8. Edible flowers
Cherry flowers are edible – use them to decorate food, including cakes, ice-cream, cocktails, champagne and prosecco, and other drinks.
9. Crystalised flowers
Crystalise some cherry flowers and use to decorate deserts. To do this lightly whip egg white and paint it on flowers, using a brush. You need just a thin film of egg white. Once painted, sprinkle the flowers with powdered sugar and put on baking paper for two hours to dry.
10. Cherry chocolats
Make or buy cherries in chocolate and serve with coffee.
11. Cherry-themed drinks
Make cherry-themed drinks. And any drink becomes cherry-themed with a cherry flower floating on top. But there are numerous other possibilities, including martinis that are traditionally served with cherries, children’s drinks made with cherry juice and decorated with glacéed cherries, and cocktails. There are plenty of recipes for cocktails containing cherry juice and decorated with cherries and cherry blossom.
12. Dress, perfume, jewellery
If you are holding a party, dress in the colours of cherry blossom, wear a cherry blossom perfume (of which there are many) and cherry-themed jewellery. Ask your family and guests to do the same.
13. Cherry blossom ornaments
Decorate your clothing with cherry blossom. Wear some in your hair, as did the ladies at the Japanese imperial court in the middle ages. Make a posy from cherry blossom, attach to a pin and wear as a brooch. Make such posies for family members and your guests, if you are hosting a party.
14. Cherry blossom crafts
Make cherry blossom ‘jewellery’ and decorations with children. Help them to decorate their hats, bags and hairbands with blossom. Make cherry blossom necklaces and posies with them.
15. Poetry and arts
Japanese aristocrats celebrated cherry blossom with art – do the same. Read some cherry- and spring-themed poetry with your family and friends. Try drawing or painting cherry blossom with children, family, friends or on your own. Observe the flowers closely and try to represent and express their beauty.
Arrange a ceremonial tea drinking for your family or friends. It may not be quite an authentic Japanese tea ceremony, but you could evoke some of its traditions by taking time to prepare tea carefully, and enjoying it in a relaxed, mindful and convivial manner.
17. Dried cherry blossom
Collect some cherry petals to dry. Do this towards the end of the flowering season. On a dry, quiet day put a tablecloth or a sheet under cherry branches and shake them very gently. If done carefully, it won’t harm the tree or the emerging fruit. Collect the petals and dry in shade.
In the past in Japan dried cherry petals were used to make sachets that were sown in clothing to perfume it subtly.
Dried cherry petals can be also used to make tea in combination with tea leaves and other herbs. This is traditional in Japan and for a good reason. All parts of cherry are medicinal, and all, including fruit, flowers, berry stalks, leaves, young branches and roots are used in traditional medicine.
Image credits: featured image – cherry blossom by Andrew Fogg.