History, tourism, culture and community are important elements of life in Alexandria. Facets of each were on display last weekend during the official celebration of George Washington’s Birthday that is popularly known as Presidents’ Day.
Our George Washington Birthday Parade is the largest and oldest in the country, dating back to the early 1800s. If it feels like the same parade every year, that’s because it largely is. You can count on seeing scouts, marching bands, Shriners in their adorable cars and even more adorable children and dogs marching and watching. But there are also fun wrinkles each year. The Tinkus Kay’sur dancers were a delight in Monday’s parade and ended it on an upbeat note on what was a damp and dreary day. (See our photos of the event here.)
In honoring Alexandria native Washington each year with a parade, we pay homage to our city’s most famous former resident and our country’s first president. Another nod to history was a pre-parade ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier, located behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House.
Also interesting was who did and didn’t participate in the parade. While several high school bands marched, including one from New York state, our own T.C. Williams High School marching band was nowhere to be seen. Shouldn’t they be a staple of this parade every year? On the other hand, it was surprising to see a Christ Church delegation in the parade, following their well-publicized, controversial decision last year to remove a plaque honoring Washington from their sanctuary.
The day before the parade, the Torpedo Factory held its 50th annual Patrons’ Show, in which local artists donate paintings, sculpture, photographs and other artwork. Participants then buy a ticket and names are drawn, raffle-style in rapid order. Ticket holders rank the donated art prior to the event, some using elaborate systems, so they are ready for their few seconds on the clock when their name is drawn. Read “Art League Patrons’ Show turns 50″ here for a full account of this local tradition.
Both events bring people together. Viewers often brave dismal weather for the parade, and for most of the 50 years of the Patrons’ Show, people who wanted a ticket waited in line, outdoors, for hours on the appointed day in January.
The new system of online ticket purchases is more efficient, but not as fun. Still, the event itself brings hundreds of people from all walks together, as artists mingle with those there mainly for the fun of the process.
The history, culture and community of these two events also feed Alexandria’s tourism industry, which along with small businesses, form the heart of our city’s economy.
Multi-faceted enrichment is win-win.
So, “huzzah” to George and to our local artists – it’s good to honor the past and our creative present, all in one quintessentially Alexandria weekend.