Home For the Holidays 2013

© Chester Simpson

© Chester Simpson

For those of you who read us every month, you know that each month I visit a different area in our region as a road trip.  However, each December I always write about our hometown, Old Town Alexandria.  With the recent closing of the Robinson Terminal loading docks and the coal-fired power plant in north Alexandria, there has been a lot of activity as to what to do with the development of the waterfront.  There is no doubt that change is coming, but for now, I am going to talk about December in Old Town Alexandria and the town itself.

The first settlement was established in 1695, a half mile down the Potomac River at the mouth of Hunting Creek. The ground was not well suited as a harbor as the shoreline was very shallow, so the settlement was re-established at its present site where the channel came closer to shore.  Oronoco and Duke streets extended into deep water, but between the two lay an arc of swampy flatland backed by bluffs.  Beginning in 1759 the filling in of this marsh and flatland began and a wharf was eventually constructed.  This was the beginning of Alexandria’s future as one of America’s leading seaports.

Soon warehouses were built to store all of he commerce that was coming to, and leaving Alexandria.  These same warehouses standing today make up the shops and restaurants of Old Town.  By the end of the 18th century, Alexandria was among the ten busiest ports in America and had been designated an official port of entry.

© Chester Simpson

© Chester Simpson

The town derives its Scottish heritage from Scottish merchants John Alexander, William Ramsay and John Carlyle.  The celebration of that heritage continues today with the annual Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend and parade, which is held the first Saturday of every December.  This year the Scottish Weekend is December 6 and 7 and is consistently ranked by the Southeast Tourism Society as one of he top 20 events in the South and regularly draws nearly 30,000 visitors.

The weekend kicks off Friday December 6, at 9:00 am to 5:pm with a collection of unique vendors under one roof at the Christmas Marketplace at the George Washington Masonic Memorial across from the King Street Metro.  Also at 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm there will be a Deck the Halls with Santa, a charming Alexandria tradition for children.  For the adults, there will be a Taste of Scotland to kick off the holiday season in style at the Memorial. Taste some of he finest Scotch and spirits; enjoy light fare, beer and wine.  Check for prices.

The 43rd annual Christmas Walk will begin at 11:00 am and begins at Wilkes and south Saint Asaph Streets, and ends at market Square with massed pipes.  The Walk has over 100 Scottish clans, pipe and drum bands, Scottish dancers, re-enactment groups, service bands and of course, Santa.  This is a grand parade and day, but dress for the cold.

Parade of Lights © Chester Simpson

Parade of Lights
© Chester Simpson

The evening of the 7th will feature the 14th annual Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights.  Dozens of brightly lit boats will stretch along the Potomac River during the colorful parade at Alexandria’s historic harbor.  The parade is led by Alexandria’s fireboat Vigilant and Washington, D.C.’s fireboat John Glenn.  The boats are dressed to impress a panel of judges who will award prizes in a dozen categories including “Best in Show,” “Thinking Outside the Christmas Box,” and “Hardiest Souls.’”  Dockside festivities begin at 3 pm with the parade passing in review at 5:30.  This is a fun event…I know…I entered my sailboat a number of years ago and even won a prize with my “All I want for Christmas is a real good tan” theme!

All of these events are on the 6th and 7th of December, but don’t forget the rest of the month.  From the waterfront to the metro, Old Town Alexandria has unique shops, antique shops, furniture stores, restaurants and much more for the entire 18 blocks. This is the place to find a one of a kind outfit, piece of jewelry, or a new piece of art at the internationally known Torpedo Factory Art Center. If it seems daunting, remember that there is a free trolley that runs every 15 minutes from one end of town to the other.  Even though King Street is the “main drag” in Old Town, don’t forget that there are a lot of other stores spread throughout the town.  To help streamline your choices, the best of these stores advertise in the publication that is in your hands.

For those of you who are reading this outside of Old Town, I go to your towns eleven times a year and help bring them to life…come and visit mine and celebrate this holiday season.  Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

~ Written by: Bob Tagert

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