Local traditions and culture in Washington D.C.

  • Embassy Events / Other Festivities
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  • A silent protest for freedom of speech
    A silent protest for freedom of speech
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  • Cherry trees in bloom
    Cherry trees in bloom
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Most Viewed Local Customs in Washington D.C.

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    The Cherry Blossom Parade

    by tpangelinan Written Apr 25, 2005

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    This parade starts around 10am, and everyone in town is here. Dozens of kids from local high schools line up to march also.
    Stores like Target, and sponsors like Comcast, ABC, Channel 8 News and Southwest Airlines make this a fairly large event. Traffic in cars and on foot was like nothing I have experienced. This is Epic Event Traffic.

    Truck blowing up floats
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    Why is Our Capital Not Within a State?

    by deecat Updated Apr 23, 2005

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    A man's dreams are an index to his greatness

    Washington, D.C., although the capital of the US, is not part of any state. Supposedly, the country's founders feared a state with the nation's capital might have too much power.

    It was George Washington who chose the location for the capita, the area along the Potomac River; the land belonged to Maryland & Virginia. It was important to keep everyone in the North & South happy. So part of the land came from Maryland, a northern state; the rest came from Virginia, a southern state. Both states agreed to give their land & many people were upset because it was a backward, out-of-the-way spot.

    Today, "all of what Virginia ceded for Washington, D.C. (present day Arlington and Alexandria) was retroceded in the 1840s, so all of what is now Washington is the land that Maryland donated."
    Courtesty of b1bob (Nat).

    It was called District of Columbia.
    Why? The name derives from Christopher Columbus who discovered America. It was named Washington, D.C. because George Washington chose its location. Today, Washington, D.C. is called the District, or simply D.C..

    I've read a good deal about the man who designed our capital, Pierre Charles L'Enfant. Washington appointed this French engineer, artist, & architect to be the project's chief engineer & planner of the city.

    L'Enfant was inspired by Versailles, France, & he strove to make America's capital "an even grander metropolis than anything in Europe." Even though L'Enfant only lasted 1 year on the job as chief planner, his plans guided the future design of Washington D.C.

    Because of him, the capital grew as a "planned city". Sadly, L'Enfant died penniless in 1825; 84 years after his death, his remains were reburied on a hill at Arlington National Cemetery. At his gravesite, you'll be able to have a spectacular view of Washington, D.C.,the city of L'Enfant's dreams!

    Pierre L/Enfant's grave in Arlington Cemetery
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    Cherry Trees: Gift of Friendship

    by deecat Updated May 29, 2005

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    "Most people give up just when they're about to achieve success..." H. Ross Perot

    Washington's annual Cherry Blossom Parade attracts about 200,000 visitors each year.

    Why do they have this parade you ask? Well, these decorative trees along the banks of the Potomac River came about as a result of a "symbolic blossoming" of US & Japanese relations about 85 years ago.

    An American botanist, David Fairchild, is credited with introducing some 75,000 new varieties into the city. These new varieties attracted the attention of Helen Taft (wife of the president in 1910); she thought that Japanese cherry trees would be just the thing to cover a local eyesore by the Potomac River.

    A Japanese Ambassador called Tokyo & said that US-Japanese relations could be happily cemented with a gift of 2,000 young trees. The trees were shipped across the world at quite an expense. The note from the Japanese emperor said something like the trees would last at least 30 years & would symbolize the enduring friendship between the 2 countries. The friendship ended when war broke out after the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor, exactly 31 years later!

    The first trees sent over were burned by US Customs because they were diseased. Then, 3,000 healthy trees were sent & planted along the banks of the river, & they have become a pride & symbol of the city ever since.

    It was in 1935 that the city fathers inaugurated the annual Cherry Blossom Festival to attract tourist. The only interruption to that custom was from 1942-1951 (anti-Japanese sentiments).

    Today, there's a three-hour Cherry Blossom parade that has bands, floats, & a Miss Cherry Blossom contest. This usually happens about the 1st two weeks of April.

    Sadly, there are only about 12 of the original trees left, but the stocks are constantly renewed through exchanges with the city of Tokyo.

    Note: if you plan to visit during the two weeks of Cherry Blossom time, reserve way ahead of time.

    Cherry Blossom Queen in Annual Parade
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  • deecat's Profile Photo

    Easily Mixed Up Words: Capital & the Capitol

    by deecat Written Apr 23, 2005

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    So many people mix up the two words: Capital and Capitol. I have to "think" about them whenever I use them.

    Washington D.C. is the capital (spelled with an a) of the United States, and in the city of Washington stands the Capitol (spelled with an o). The Capitol is the building where the Senate and the House of Representatives meet.

    The capital is the center of the government of the United States of America.

    The word capitol stems from the Temple of Jupiter that once stood on Capitoline Hill in Rome. Just like our Capitol, that temple was used as a meeting place in ancient times.

    From the very first, the meeting-house for the U.S. Congress was called the Capitol.

    Hope this clarifies the difference between the two.

    Capitol at Night
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    Diplomatic Impunity

    by deecat Updated May 29, 2005

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    "There is no right way to do something wrong."

    I personally find Diplomatic Impunity disgusting. It protects diplomats from any kind of punishment for misbehavior or for breaking the law. As far as I am concerned, it encourages lawlessness.

    Some diplomates have been known to ignore parking rules, speed, drink and drive, partake in drugs, abuse family members, shoplift, or even attempt murder (some successfully!) I don't mean to give all diplomats a bad reputation because most of them are law abiding; however, I see no reason for them to be given special treatment.

    Diplomats already have special privileges such as exclusive license plates that exempt them from paying fines for parking anywhere they please.
    They live in some of the most exclusive residents in Washington on Embassy Row and have maids and butlers who look after their every need. What a life.

    So, if you see a car parked illegally, don't think that you, too, can get by with it...not unless you have a "special license" such as the one in the photograph.

    I did not take this photographi

    License Plate of Diplomat
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    Hitting (or mangling) the high notes

    by gilabrand Updated Jul 5, 2005

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    If you are not an opera singer, America's national anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, can be awfully hard to sing.

    The words were written by Francis Scott Key on September 14, 1814, and later set to the tune of a popular drinking song. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson decreed that it be played at military events, and in 1931, it became the national anthem by act of Congress. The official musical arrangement, in B flat, was published by the Armed Forces School of Music in 1942.

    Now, according to the International Herald Tribune, a California psychiatrist by the name of Ed Siegel, who organizes sing-alongs, is waging a campaign to have the Star Spangled Banner sung three keys lower, in G major. That way, he says, even tone-deaf people will be able to sing it!

    Personally, I would change the anthem to "My country, 'tis of Thee." It's so much simpler and easier on the ear:

    My country, 'tis of Thee
    Sweet Land of Liberty
    Of thee I sing;
    Land where my fathers died,
    Land of the pilgrims' pride,
    From every mountain side
    Let Freedom ring.

    Sing your heart out
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    South vs. North Mentality

    by JetlagCity Updated Dec 18, 2004

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    Washington D.C. is the only place I've ever been where I was referred to as a "Yankee". Although the people who labelled me this way didn't appear to mean it in a derogatory way, I felt very surprised and a little uncomfortable with it. I had always thought of everyone in the U.S. as just "Americans". If anyone had asked me to identify myself with a region of the country, I would've said I was from the West, but some people here tend to see things in terms of North and South. I found this rather odd, since that culture (and the war between the North and the South, which ended well over a hundred years ago) was, in reality, between the Northeast and the Southeast. The West had little or nothing to do with it.

    Also I had never thought of the capital of my country as being "Southern" before, since if I look at a map it doesn't look that far South to me. But it's a matter of culture, not geography, and clearly some people here think of it that way. I even experienced a rousing round of "I Wish I Was in Dixie" at a piano bar one night! It IS a fun song : )

    different people, different frames of reference
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    Why is Washington DC the capital?

    by Dabs Updated Jun 25, 2005

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    Although peculiar to think of Washington DC as being southern, indeed it was considered to be so at the time the location for the capital of the United States was decided. The northern and southern states were vying for the capital and eventually a political compromise was reached. In exchange for agreeing to locate the capital in the "south", the northern states were relieved of the debt they incurred during the Revolutionary War.

    The first President of the United States, George Washington, picked the location then known as Foggy Bottom, at the junction of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers about 14 miles upstream from Mount Vernon, Washington's estate.

    Ironically, George Washington was the only President not to live in the White House.

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    autumn pumpkin patch

    by richiecdisc Written Apr 25, 2010

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    I grew up in the northeastern US and one of the great customs is the putting out of pumpkins in autumn. It is a Halloween thing but it's also about the season of the harvest and it is a great colorful addition to what can be a dreary area in the fall if the weather is gray. It can be very pretty if the weather is fine and the light is low in the sky. We were lucky to see the latter and especially in Georgetown the custom seems to be in full swing.

    pumpkins and authm go together
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    Taxation without representation?

    by matcrazy1 Updated Dec 25, 2005

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    At first I was surprised seeing the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" on the automobile license plates of Washington, DC. "No taxation without representation" was a rallying cry for advocates of American independence from Great Britain in the eighteenth century. The American colonies were required to pay taxes to London, yet had no representatives in Parliament, and felt therefore that they were being forced to fund a government into which they had no input.

    Now, I know that District of Columbia is the home of over 550,000 United States citizens who pay taxes although they have no voting representative in the United States Congress! Thus it's the only area in the USA where "taxation without represantion" still exists. How is it possible?

    Well, look back into the beginning of the city. Two states, Virginia and Maryland, gave land to the Federal government, and the US capitol was created as District of Columbia in 1800. In the Constitution, the residents of the District of Columbia were put under the jurisdiction of Congress, not part of any state and were granted no vote in Congress. Today the district does have a NON-VOTING delegate to the House of Representatives who can sit on committees and participate in debates.

    There is a lot of rumour about it recently. The problem is that, you know, Americans very rarely change their constitution and maybe first of all having 1 voting representative in both chambers of US Congress would be regarded by all other states as over-representation as DC has only some 550,000 citizens. And part of federal taxes (for sure more then paid by DC citizens) is spent in DC and serves both its citizens and maybe even more its visitors (free museums!). It's difficult to find right solution, isn't it?

    DC LICENCE PLATE
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    4th of July Fireworks

    by travelfrosch Updated Nov 12, 2006

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    As you would expect, every 4th of July, Washington DC puts on a spectacular show, to include a parade, a concert, and finally, fireworks on the National Mall. People gather all the way from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial (with the exception of the area around the World War II Memorial and the Reflecting Pool, which is closed off for safety reasons) to watch the display. Security is tight, with multiple checkpoints to get into the National Mall area. No alcoholic beverages or anything remotely resembling a weapon is permitted. Depending on the type of camera you own, you may find it closely scrutinized as well.

    To get there, it's best to take the Metro. The Metro runs extra trains and re-arranges the routes specially for the holiday -- check their website before setting out. Note also that all Park and Ride facilities are free on weekends and major holidays (such as the 4th of July). Our recommendation for the best place to see the fireworks is around the Lincoln Memorial. You can't hear the concert, but the views of the fireworks are tremendous. The best way to get there is to use the Arlington Cemetery Metro stop, then walk across the Memorial Bridge.

    Fireworks on July 4, 2006 Crowds gather on the National Mall The Washington Monument is a popular spot The Lincoln Memorial is also popular Abe and others jockey for the best view
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    National Christmas Tree

    by travelfrosch Updated Dec 4, 2010

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    Every December, the Ellipse (an area just south of the White House) is set aside for the National Christmas Tree. The tree is normally officially lit by the President of the United States on the first Thursday of December. The area remains open daily from 11 AM to 11 PM through New Year's Day.

    In addition to the tree, there is normally a giant model railroad set with working trains running around the tree. There are also smaller trees, one for every State and US territory. There's also a stage where various musicians perform concerts most evenings during the Christmas season.

    The National Christmas Tree Washington Monument view Model Trains! Sara by the Massachusetts tree The National Yule Log
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    National Cherry Blossom Festival

    by travelfrosch Updated Feb 4, 2012

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    The National Cherry Blossom Festival occurs annually every spring, commemorating the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees by the City of Tokyo to replace the American trees wiped out by a catastrophic blight. The event usually occurs in early late March and/or early April, though the exact dates are determined by National Park Service horticulturalists depending on the predicted time the cherry trees will bloom (March 20 - April 27 in 2012).

    Various events occur all around Washington, to include a parade and many concerts. The center of the action is the Jefferson Memorial, with many cherry trees all around the Tidal Basin. Our recommendation to see the best blossoms is around the FDR Memorial.

    The best way to get to the festival is by Metro. The two closest stops to the Tidal Basin are Smithsonian (Orange and Blue Lines) and L'Enfant Plaza (Blue, Orange, Yellow, and Green Lines). You can also use the Arlington Cemetery stop (Blue Line) and walk across the Memorial Bridge.

    Cherry Blossoms! View from the Jefferson Memorial Near the FDR Memorial More blossoms Sara enjoying the view
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    Cherry Blossom Festival

    by besbel Updated Mar 30, 2008

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    If you are in Washington DC during the last week of March and the first week of April, please go to the Tidal Basin, where the Jefferson Memorial is. Around the basin you will see hundreds of cherry tree flowers blooming, giving the area a lovely whitish/pinkish spring color. Those cherry trees were a donation from Japan to the US back in 1912, and during the week in which these trees use to bloom there are several activities to commemorate the US-Japan friendship and the start of spring in DC. Among these there are parades, kite flying contests, lectures, exhibitions, family events, etc. More information about the activies is available in http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/ The blooming period is patiently awaited (there are live broadcasting of the blooming online!) and lasts only a very few days. More information about the activies is available in http://www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/

    Washington Monument behind the cherry tree pathway Cherry trees in bloom Jefferson Memorial and cherry tree pathway Washington Monument from cherry foliage
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    The Corner Office

    by GentleSpirit Written Aug 7, 2013

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    Everywhere, powerful people like to have the nicest office on a sunny corner of the building.

    In Washington you will see a lot of powerful people (and a lot of wannabees too!)

    I saw this corner office on the way from the White House back to the Farragut Metro.
    Gives new meaning to having the corner office, I thought!

    Would you like to have this office?

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