Alexandria Celebrates Women: The origins of the Scottish Walk Parade

Alexandria Celebrates Women: The origins of the Scottish Walk Parade
The 52nd annual Scottish Christmas Walk commemorates Alexandria’s Scottish founding. (Photo/Louise Krafft)

By Gayle Converse 

In 1605, five residents of Aberdeen, Scotland were prosecuted for parading through the town “maskit and dancing with bellis.” More than 400 years later, it might be difficult to imagine why an event like Alexandria’s Scottish Walk Parade – one of the most cherished holiday parades in this city, founded in 1749 by Scottish merchants – would have been outlawed in Scotland. 

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, Christian celebrations were rare, and in 1640, Christmas was officially banned in Scotland. In fact, December 25 did not become a Scottish public holiday until 1958. 

Two Alexandria women are credited with creating much more than bonnie holiday traditions. They developed the city’s Scottish Christmas Walk, now in its 52nd year, as a community event to highlight the city’s Scottish heritage and to support the mission of the Campagna Center, then known as the “Community Y.” 

The Community Y had previously served as Alexandria’s YWCA – a place where in 1945, a group of local women organized to provide the “only place where women of all ages, regardless of race or creed, could gather for social activities that promoted leadership, morale and inspiration.” 

In 1962, Elizabeth Anne Campagna joined the organization as the YWCA’s executive director. During her 25-year stewardship, Campagna fostered dozens of innovative programs for women and their families that formed a vital safety net. 

Campagna also transformed the nature of the assistance the city gave to those in need. Through the creative use of city, state and federal funds, she oversaw the development of additional initiatives including Alexandria’s first Head Start program, latch-key assistance, tutoring and crisis intervention. 

In the 1970s, the YWCA separated from the national group to become the independent Alexandria Community Y. In 1971, working in tandem with former City Manager Vola Therrell Lawson – then serving as Alexandria’s assistant director for the Economic Opportunities Commission – Campagna developed the city’s Scottish Christmas Walk with the support of Junior and Supporting Friends, a core of women volunteers. 

Current Campagna Center President and CEO Tammy L. Mann explained the event’s mission and on-going relevance. 

“This event and the associated activities that evolved around the Walk were designed to recognize the city’s Scottish heritage and draw attention to the work of the Center,” Mann said. 

In the early 1980s, TCC’s current headquarters was purchased at 418 South Washington St. in Old Town. In 1991, the facility was renamed the Campagna Center in honor of Elizabeth Anne Campagna’s commitment to the community. With the addition of a middle school program in 2012, the Center is the only nonprofit in Alexandria serving children across the education spectrum, from birth through high school. 

During the early 2000s, TCC became Alexandria’s sole provider of Early Head Start services and expanded the number of children served through Head Start. In 2016, the Early Learning Center was opened to serve young children ineligible for Head Start. 

The Campagna Center also added vital programs that addressed the needs of middle and high school students at risk for school failure and welcomed the New Neighbors program to help adults and young children learn English. 

Today, the organization ensures Campagna’s legacy lives on. TCC has more than 200 staff members, 27 board members and more than 150 volunteers dedicated to the well-being of Alexandria’s children, teens and adults. 

“Throughout its history women have been at the helm. Today, women lead both at executive and program levels across the organization,” Mann said. 

Since 2022, the Scottish Walk has been produced by Visit Alexandria in partnership with the Campagna Center and the city. The collaboration allows TCC to continue to deliver its mission in Alexandria with education and social support programs “from cradle to career.” TCC will continue to host the annual Taste of Scotland on December 1 and partner with volunteers to support the parade. 

President and CEO of Visit Alexandria, Patricia Washington, emphasized the importance of the Scottish Walk to Alexandria. 

“The Scottish Christmas Walk Parade is an iconic event in Old Town Alexandria that is integral to the growing economic and reputational impact Alexandria experiences during the holiday season,” Washington said. “December has historically been one of our softest months but in the past five years, December hotel revenues have grown by 11% to almost $10 million.” 

Those long ago parading Aberdonians might have been proud to collaborate with Alexandria women like Elizabeth Anne Campagna and Vola Lawson. 

P.S. How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Scottish Gaelic? “Nollaig Chridheil!” 

The writer is a founder of Alexandria Celebrates Women, a nonprofit commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage and highlighting influential women throughout the city’s history.