Story By Kristen Eastlick, Photo by Buddy Secor
One of the great benefits of living and working in the DC-metro area is the region’s connection to history. That connection will be in full display this February as Alexandria commemorates the 285th celebration of George Washington’s Birthday.
Organized by the city’s George Washington Birthday Celebration Committee, Alexandria’s celebration includes events that highlight various aspects of Washington’s life and showcases the joy of living in Alexandria — whether in the mid-1700s or today.
The celebration begins in late January with the launch of the “Cherry Challenge,” a two-week competition featuring more than fifty of Alexandria’s finest restaurants. See which chef can create the tastiest and most distinctive dish using cherries as the main ingredient! In an event honoring the myth of young George chopping down a cherry tree, participating restaurants develop cherry-based cocktails, appetizers, entrées, and desserts, and diners are encouraged to rate each creation. The winning restaurants are featured at the George Washington Birthday Parade and the most frequent diner receives an award!
The George Washington Birthday Celebration Committee also offers visitors the opportunity to actually walk in Washington’s footsteps! Each Sunday in February at 2:00 pm, knowledgeable guides will showcase some of the most important of the 140+ places in Alexandria associated with the Father of our Country. These free, 90-minute “Walking with Washington” tours start at the Ramsay House Visitors Center, 221 King Street, and do not require advance reservations.
One of the tour stops is Gadsby’s Tavern, a museum and an adjacent operating restaurant that was a center of Alexandria’s economic, political, and social life in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Under the management of John Gadsby, an entrepreneur who operated the tavern from 1796-1808, it served notables like Washington, LaFayette, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe. The Gadsby’s Tavern Museum offers a series of events, including:
* Winter Warmer Ladies Tea – on February 5th, guests can enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the Tavern. With seatings at 3:00 and 3:15 pm, the teas will include a variety of 18th-century desserts and a cup of Mr. Gadsby’s special blend of tea or American Heritage Chocolate. Martha Washington will help greet guests and share her news of Alexandria. Reservations are required for the $35 event, but you can incorporate a free museum tour before tea by arriving 45 minutes early.
* 18th Century Dance Classes – Preparation for the Birthnight Ball. Washington was widely known to be an accomplished dancer. On three Thursdays in February (the 2nd, 9th, and 16th), you can learn his style, when Gadsby’s Tavern Museum will host free classes on 18th century English country dancing from expert dance instructors.
* Birthnight Banquet & Ball – Whether you’ve learned English country dancing or not, you’re invited to the recreation of a famous celebration of Washington’s Birthday set in 1799. The evening features an 18th century banquet, English country dancing, and character reenactors, including General and Mrs. Washington. Advance reservations are required, and ticket prices start at $125.00. Period costumes are optional, and “after-five” attire is encouraged.
*Revolutionary War Reenactment. On Sunday, February 19, volunteers will stage historic camp and tactical demonstrations throughout the day, culminating in a skirmish between the Redcoats and the American Revolutionary Army at 2:00 pm. This free event requires no registration and will be held at Fort Ward Park, 4301 W. Braddock Road, in the city’s West End.
The largest event in Alexandria’s celebration is the George Washington Birthday Parade, held on Monday, February 20. The day also includes:
* The Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Association’s Breakfast and Meeting. The event starts at 9:00 am; attendees can meet can meet special guests and members of this 243-year-old organization that supports the Alexandria Fire Department. Enjoy remarks from S.E. Culp, columnist and commentator. Breakfast tickets are $35.
* The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution will be the site of a Wreath Laying Ceremony at 11:00 am. Colonial military and civilians will honor soldiers of the Revolutionary War in the cemetery behind the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, 323 S. Fairfax St. Space is limited, but the event is free.
* The George Washington Birthday Parade – the largest parade in the United States that celebrates the birth of Washington in his chosen hometown – begins at 1:00pm, preceded by the Armed Forces Community Covenant Ceremony at the parade reviewing stand starting at 11:00 am. The 2017 Parade Grand Marshall will be recently-retired Alexandria Police Chief Earl Cook. Olympic Silver Medal Winner Shakur Stevenson will be the Parade’s special guest.
* Continue your visit to Old Town Alexandria by enjoying free admission for the day to many historic venues around town, including: Gadsby’s Tavern Museum, Friendship Firehouse Museum, the Old Presbyterian Meeting House, The Lyceum, Carlyle House, Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, and Christ Church.
Washington’s official birthday, on Wednesday, February 22, will feature three events that commemorate the day:
* A wreath laying at the Tomb of George Washington at 8:00 am at his Mount Vernon estate begins the festivities.
* The Duncan Library will host a birthday party for patrons aged 6 to 12 from 3:30 – 4:30 pm. Besides ice cream and cake, there will be reenactors in 18th century attire representing friends and employees of Gen. and Mrs. Washington who will help bring history to life. John Carlyle, a stable hand, Washington’s master of hounds and ladies will share stories and reminiscences.
* At 7:30 pm, Gadsby’s Tavern Museum will host a lecture on “Washington as America’s Foremost Entrepreneur.” Edward G. Lengel, Chief Historian of the White House Historical Association, will chronicle the inspiring story of how Washington built his Mount Vernon estate into a multilayered enterprise. Tickets are $12 per person.
Last, on Saturday, February 25, there will be a series of events at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, including a free symposium beginning at 1:00 pm and, at 5:30 pm, the Annual George Washington Birthday Gala, a formal event including presentation of the George Washington Memorial Award. Gala tickets are $125, white tie is optional.
A more detailed list of events with times and locations can be found below, but for the most up-to-date information, please visit
www.washingtonbirthday.net or call (703) 829-6640.