President’s Day in Alexandria was marked with the return of an annual parade celebrating George Washington’s birthday.
Some parade events were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 due to concerns about the spread of COVID, but with numbers steadily declining more of those events are coming back.
The George Washington Birthday Parade returned to Alexandria on Monday after a two year hiatus. The streets of Old Town were lined with celebration for Washington’s 290th birthday.
Alexandria’s health care workers and first responders marched as parade grand marshals. The parade, which started at Gibbon and Fairfax Streets and snaked around City Hall, was attended by thousands. The event is the largest of its kind in the world honoring the founding father and first president.
The George Washington Birthday Parade is happening this Monday, and thousands of visitors are expected to line the mile-long parade route in Old Town.
The parade is the largest in the U.S. honoring George Washington, who turns 290 on Feb. 22. The Alexandria government will be otherwise closed on Monday, which is President’s Day.
The parade was canceled last year due to Covid, and this year’s parade is dedicated to Alexandria’s health care workers and first responders, who will march as parade grand marshals.
The full celebratory weekend is not back to full strength, as the traditional George Washington’s Birthnight Ball at Gadsby’s Tavern is remaining virtual on Saturday night, Feb. 19.
Other pre-parade traditions are continuing, including the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House at 11 a.m.; and the signing of the Armed Forces Community Covenant by Mayor Justin Wilson and the commanders of neighboring military installations.
The parade starts at Gibbon and Fairfax Streets at 1 p.m. and snakes around City Hall and the reviewing stand at King and Royal Streets.
Parade participants are listed below the jump.
George Washington birthday parade returning on Monday — “Celebrate Presidents’ Day and the first president’s 290th birthday at the George Washington Birthday Parade on Monday.” [Alexandria Times]
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ACPS receives award for renaming process — “The National School Boards Association awarded Alexandria City Public Schools a Silver Prize in its Magna Awards program for the campaign to rename two schools in the 2020-21 school year.” [Alexandria Times]
Alexandria Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker was largely silent during the pandemic. Now he’s back, bell and call and all.
Earlier this month, Fiore-Walker stood at the reviewing stand in his Colonial uniform and opened the Campagna Center’s Scottish Christmas Walk Parade in Old Town. While he’s spoken at numerous online events and small outdoor concerts over the past year, the Scottish Christmas Walk was his first large public gathering since he previously walked through Old Town ringing his bell and declaring, “Hear ye! Hear ye!” at the George Washington Birthday Parade in February 2020.
“It never gets old,” Fiore-Walker told ALXnow. “The common element in all of the events and parades is seeing happy Alexandrians and visitors. For me, it’s about seeing the city so happy. The kids, of course, they think I’m a pirate, but that’s to be expected.”
The 53-year-old Fiore-Walker has created hundreds of cries since he started the job 10 years ago. There was a lot of competition, too, and he beat out 11 other candidates for the position in a “cry-off“. He is the city’s fourth town crier since 1976, and took over after his predecessor William North-Rudin moved away.
Town criers go all the way back to ancient Greece. For thousands of years, people with booming voices and commanding presences educated mostly illiterate populaces with the latest official word on tax increases, the news of the day or public executions. For Fiore-Walker, it means two-to-three monthly events to emcee, or open. It’s a volunteer position, and he has his own uniforms. At private events, he says, the hosts will usually buy him dinner and pay a $150 honorarium to help pay for dry cleaning and gas.
“It’s given me an outlet that is different than my day-to-day,” he said.
Married with two children, Fiore-Walker has lived in Alexandria since 2002. He’s a doctor of neuroscience, and his career includes stints as the associate dean of diversity and inclusion at Georgetown University, the manager of diversity programs with the American Chemical Society and as a senior director at Teach For America. He recently started work as the senior director of the Opportunity & Inclusion Center for the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, although his coworkers aren’t yet aware of his other identity.
“I don’t think it’s come out yet,” he said. “Usually it comes out when when you’re meeting people and you say something about yourself that nobody else would know. That’s usually the thing I lead with.”
A metamorphosis occurs when Fiore-Walker puts on the uniform.
“I am no longer Ben,” he said. “I am the town crier for the City of Alexandria. That means that the town crier always uses his turn signals to change lanes, but Ben might not. The town crier doesn’t go shopping in the supermarket, but Ben does. I’m always mindful when I’m wearing the uniform that I’m not me. I’m representing the city. I don’t do things that would bring negative attention to the city.”
That schism has become the subject of jokes within Fiore-Walker’s family.
“A few years ago, I was talking with my sister about the town crier in the third person,” Fiore-Walker said. “And she said, ‘You do realize you are the town crier, right? I just wanted to make sure that you’re not having a mental break here and you realize that you’re the town crier, it’s a role that you inhabit, and that when you take off the costume you are no longer inhabiting that role.'”
Fiore-Walker has no plans to hang up his bell anytime soon. He says the job is too much fun, and he’s also honed stellar vocal cords.
“One thing I’ve learned is I now have a town crier voice and use town crier volume,” he said. “When my kids were younger, I’d read to them and my son would say, ‘Don’t use the town crier voice, daddy.'”
Fiore-Walker’s next performance will be at Market Square for the opening of the First Night celebration on New Year’s Eve.
It was a clear and slightly brisk Saturday afternoon (Dec. 4) in Old Town for the Campagna Center’s 50th Scottish Christmas Walk Parade.
The parade, which was canceled last year due to the pandemic, is one of the most popular events in the city.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner was the grand marshal, and along with the mayor and other local dignitaries, waved at dozens of Scottish clans and bagpiping groups, including the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums.
After being canceled last year, the 50th annual Campagna Center Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is back on Saturday, Dec. 4.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) will be the grand marshal at Saturday’s parade, which begins at 11 a.m. at St. Asaph and Queen Streets and ends in front of City Hall.
In the parade, dozens of Scottish clans march to “Scotland The Brave” and other favorites as played by the City of Alexandria Pipes and Drums.
While the main attraction, the parade is usually the proverbial cherry on top of a weekend caked with Scottish-themed events that historically generates approximately $250,000 in revenues such for the Campagna Center’s Early Learning Center at St. James, it’s New Neighbors program and Building Better Futures program, among others.
The festivities begin on Friday at 6:30 p.m. with the Taste of Scotland scotch tasting, which will be held in the newly renovated Atrium building (227 S. Washington Street).
The event is sold out.
Attendees are asked to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19, which includes a photo of a CDC vaccination card or a confirmation email from a negative test result.
“Guests who do not bring proof of vaccination/test results will not be allowed into the venue,” the Campagna Center said. “To expedite the check-in process, you may email a photo of your vaccination card to [email protected] by December 1, 2021.”
The festival is not yet back to full strength, as cancellations still include the annual historic homes tours and the Campagna Center’s heather and greens sale.
Visit Alexandria has announced the return of the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights early next month.
The event is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4. The event is planned to feature dozens of brightly lit boats cruising along one mile of the Potomac River shoreline, Visit Alexandria said in a press release.
The event was one of those cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The boat parade is part of the weekend of festivities, including the city’s famous Scottish Christmas Walk and Parade. A similar boat parade is planned the same evening at 7 p.m. in D.C.
“Boat parade dockside festivities will entertain parade-goers from 2-8 p.m. in Waterfront Park at the foot of King Street,” Visit Alexandria said. “Festivities include a pop-up beer garden from Alexandria’s award-winning Port City Brewing Company and holiday music and giveaways from 97.1 WASH-FM. Hands-on activities from independently owned Alexandria businesses include a Letters to Santa postcard station from paper goods boutique Penny Post and a holiday ornament craft activity from AR Workshop Alexandria.”
The daytime activities will include a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus on a fireboat at 3:30 p.m.
Parade onlookers are encouraged to spread out for the viewing, with a list of suggested spots included in the press release:
- Founders Park (351 N. Union Street)
- Alexandria City Marina (0 Cameron Street)
- Waterfront Park (1A Prince Street)
- Point Lumley Park (1 Duke Street)
- Shipyard/Harborside Park (1 Wilkes Street)
- Windmill Hill Park (501 S. Union Street)
- Ford’s Landing Park (99 Franklin Street)
Photo via Visit Alexandria VA/Facebook
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Council to Vote on 2-Hour Heavy Vehicle Parking Limit — “In response to community concerns re long-term heavy vehicle parking in commercial areas, staff is proposing a 2-hour heavy vehicle parking limit ordinance (except for loading/unloading)” [Twitter]
St. Patrick’s Day Parade Canceled — “This year would have been the 40th annual parade. In 2020, the March 7 parade was the last major event in Alexandria before COVID-19 restrictions began to be implemented.” [Patch.com]
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Today’s Weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 59F. Winds W at 5 to 10 mph… A mostly clear sky (in the evening). Low 37F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]
New Job: Dog Walker/Pet Sitter — “Pay ranges from $350 to $650 per week, depending on the number of dogs scheduled for that week. Must have a valid driver’s license and must be able to safely transport numerous dogs in your vehicle.” [Indeed]
While the Scottish Christmas Parade is cancelled this year, President and CEO of The Campagna Center Tammy Mann said the non-profit’s early childhood programs that rely on the fundraising this weekend are no less in demand.
Usually, The Campagna Center hosts a holiday store, where families can come into the building and an entire floor is dedicated to giving low-income families a positive holiday shopping experience. This year, The Campagna Center is planning an alternative drive-through program on Saturday for families in the program.
“Given health challenge, not going to be able to set it up that way,” Mann said. “We have about 400 families that we’re going to be providing books, grocery gift cards, and stocking stuffers for children. We’re grateful that we’re able to do it, and I know our families have been incredibly responsive to the many ways we’ve adapted and been able to get things to them during this period… But obviously if we could have that experience, that would be what you would want, so parents could choose the things they want.”
Mann said instead of allowing children to pick their own gifts, The Campagna Center staff packaged toys for children.
Mann also said the Scottish Christmas Parade is one of the most high-visible events for The Campagna Center, and she’s worried future programs won’t have the kind of fundraising and support the parade. Weekend events hosted around the Scottish Christmas Parade generally bring in around $250,000 for The Campagna Center.
“While parade is not happening, needs we have to address since pandemic began go on,” Mann said. “We are definitely wanting people to be aware of the cause behind it and find ways to contribute and support the work.”
That funding goes to support programs like one that provides an in-person learning space for children K-5 if their parents are not able to work from home. The in-person learning program has been in operation at two sites since classes started this summer.
Mann said the program has already been more expensive than it usually is because of the added cost of PPE and COVID testing for staff.
“The cost of taking all of that on has been something where we had to get creative on raising funds to support,” Mann said. “Parents are not evenly sharing in that because it’s a sliding payscale based on income.”
As Mann looks to the next year, she said it’s difficult to plan what comes next with the situation being as uncertain as it is.
“The need for after care services will continue to exist,” Mann said, “[but it’s] hard to predict what that will look and feel like. “
Right now, Mann said her focus is on adapting to changing plans for school structure. The Campagna Center also continues to operate an emergency diaper bank for families and offering tutoring services.
“There are a number of outreach efforts underway in December that, as families move into the holidays, there are things they won’t have to worry about or figure out how to make happen,” Mann said. “We appreciate all that folk have done in the city.”
Photo via The Campagna Center/Facebook