Spring has arrived in the Elm City, and the blooming of the Wooster Square cherry blossom trees is proof.
On Sunday, organizers expect over 10,000 visitors to attend this year’s Wooster Square’s Cherry Blossom Festival, which celebrates the 73 Yoshino cherry trees planted in the historic neighborhood 46 years ago. This year, Wooster Square was included on National Geographic’s list of “Best places to see cherry blossoms in the U.S.” along with the famous National Cherry Blossom Festival held in the nation’s capital every spring. The festival coincides with New Haven’s 381st birthday — the anniversary of John Davenport’s founding of the city in 1638.
“It’s a wonderful New Haven neighborhood-based celebration and it’s a celebration of the quality of not only our neighborhood, but the diversity of the neighborhood and the city,” festival co-chair Charlie Murphy said in an interview with the News.
According to Murphy, this year’s festival will be an opportunity to both engage with the blossoms and experience the cultural diversity of the New Haven community through musical performances in the swing, jazz, Caribbean and Latin genres. Performers include the Neighborhood Music School’s premier jazz ensemble, swing group Tuxedo Junction, St. Luke’s Steel Band and salsa group Carlos Santiago y Su Momento Musical.
Jeff Fuller ’67 MUS ’69 , who has lived in New Haven for the past 33 years, is leading the Neighborhood Music School Premier Jazz Ensemble’s performance at the festival.
“It is always a treat to play at the Wooster Square Cherry Blossom Festival. We have played for the past six years — the Premiere Jazz Ensemble brings together the best jazz musicians at the Neighborhood Music School,” Fuller said. “They’re a mix of adult professionals and high school students.”
Drawing on Wooster Square’s traditional Italian heritage, the festival will feature Italian fare from the historic pizza establishments in the neighborhood, while also incorporating diverse cuisines from Ethiopia, India and Mexico.
The festival itself, Murphy said, is an example of the unique confluence of Italian and Japanese cultural traditions.
“[Wooster Square] always had a strong Italian American identity. The Italians came mostly in the late 1800s,” Murphy said. “The cherry trees, the ones around the park, weren’t planted until 1973. They form the whole perimeter around the park, and to have them blossoming is just beautiful.”
Over 30 authors and artists will appear at the festival, and visitors will have the opportunity to buy books, jewelry, photographs and prints to support the local arts scene. Additionally, many area nonprofits will set up booths to inform the local community about their missions.
Organized by the Historic Wooster Square Organization, the festival aims to be inclusive to all, with a section of the park geared toward family-friendly activities and another dedicated to dogs and their owners.
In addition to hosting the festival, the Historic Wooster Square Organization arranges concerts, engages in neighborhood beautification projects and cooperates with community organizations like CitySeed and Elm City Parks Conservancy to promote sustainable development and community activities. The cherry blossom festival is one of several projects the organization runs that aims to celebrate, preserve and enhance the Wooster Square neighborhood.
According to Murphy, who has served as the festival’s co-chair for seven years, the growing popularity of the festival has resulted in a few logistical difficulties.
“It’s a challenge, now. Many more food vendors would like to be here than we let in,” Murphy said. “We try to be very selective and it’s by invitation only for a lot of participants because we just don’t have the space or the ability to handle them. And we’re cognizant of the park too. We really want it to survive and all the trees in it.”
The festival also serves as an opportunity to recognize citizens who have made a meaningful impact on the community through the Friend of Wooster Square Award. The recipient of this year’s award is Elsie Blackshear Chapman, who served as president of the Historic Wooster Square Organization and had a major role in organizing the festival and the annual International Festival of Arts and Ideas that is held in the summer.
Students also expressed enthusiasm for the blooming cherry blossoms in the Elm City.
“The blossoms lighten up the campus and brighten up my day! Especially during the last spurt of exams,” said Aiden Ahn ’20.
Hanami, the traditional Japanese practice of cherry blossom viewing, traces its roots back to the eighth century.
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