By Fritz Hahn
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, October 27, 2008 12:00 AM
We think Washington is a great city to visit any time, but if you time your trip right, you can participate in one of these "only in Washington" events.
Every four years, Washington comes to a standstill as the president is sworn into office on the Capitol steps. The pomp of the official ceremony is followed by a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue and numerous balls, the latter by invitation. Start planning now; the next ceremony is Jan. 20, 2009.
Late March - Early April
The National Cherry Blossom Festival
Every year, about a million visitors come to Washington, and especially the Tidal Basin, to see the blossoming of thousands of cherry trees, a tradition begun by the friendship gift of 600 trees to the United States from Japan in 1912. The festival, scheduled for March 28 through April 12, 2009, includes a parade, kite festival, concerts, fireworks and cultural events.
White House Easter Egg Roll
On Easter Monday, the White House lawn is open to children and parents, who spend the day hunting for eggs, listening to stories, playing games and meeting costumed characters like Clifford the Big Red Dog and the Easter Bunny himself. The tradition began in 1878 with President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The event has occasionally been canceled because of weather in recent years. Free tickets are usually distributed on the Saturday before and early on Monday morning. Check http://www.nps.gov/whho/EggRoll/ for more details.
Memorial Day brings a number of events, including a solemn ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, the Rolling Thunder motorcycle procession from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a free National Symphony Orchestra concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol.
Hosted by the Discovery Channel and the American Film Institute, Silverdocs is an annual film festival dedicated to documentaries. The next scheduled run is June 15-22, 2009
Late June - Early July
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival
Every summer, the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival takes over the National Mall, focusing on traditional cultures and folkways that range from Oman to the Mississippi Delta. Craftsmen show how they work, cooks prepare ethnic foods, performers demonstrate regional music, dance and poetry.
Fourth of July
The nation's capital is the place to be on the nation's birthday, which it does up big with a parade, concerts on the Mall and the West Lawn of the Capitol and a huge fireworks show on the Washington Monument grounds. The Mall is usually crowded by early afternoon. Coolers, blankets and picnics are allowed; alcohol, glass bottles and small fireworks are not. Allow plenty of time to get through the security checkpoints; all coolers and backpacks will be inspected.
National Book Festival
Organized by the Library of Congress and traditionally hosted by the first lady, the National Book Festival brings dozens of authors to the National Mall for readings, booksignings and question-and-answer sessions. All genres are represented, from biographies to sci-fi to children's books. Salman Rushdie, R. L. Stein and Geraldine Brooks were among the guests in 2008.
Marine Corps Marathon
Since 1976, runners have pounded the pavement in Arlington, Va., and Washington, passing most of the city's major sites before finishing at the Marine Corps Memorial. This is one of the biggest marathons in the country, involving 30,000 runners, as well as a "Healthy Kids Fun Run" and an 8K with a Special Olympics competition. The next race is Oct. 25, 2009. Registration, which is limited to the first 30,000 to sign up, takes place in April. See www.marinemarathon.com for more information.
The National Christmas Tree, located on the White House Ellipse, is surrounded by the Pageant of Peace, a path of decorated trees representing every state, territory and the District of Columbia. The president traditionally lights the tree at a holiday program you can attend, and the trees stay bright until New Year's Day, with musical programs onsite most evenings.
Not to be outdone, the Capitol has its own Christmas tree, lit by the speaker of the House and standing until the end of December.
First lit in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter, the National Menorah also has a space on the Ellipse.