by junior Carlin Pierce
It’s that time of year again-the time of practically tangible smells wafting through the cold air; the time of twinkling lights glittering on every window sash; the time of jingles floating through the snowflakes dotting the sidewalk. What’s more, it’s the time of local holiday celebrations.
Towns all around Northern Virginia are gearing up for Christmas with wreaths climbing every light pole and bows adorning every column. Along with these scores of decorations, towns such as Herndon, Vienna, Alexandria, and Leesburg all orchestrate festivals in honor of the holidays.
Christmas tree lightings are common early-December events, where the the entire community is invited to watch the triangular skeleton of branches blaze to life in the company of their family and friends. Herndon and Alexandria both participate in this annual tradition.
Each year the town officials garb the town of Herndon with red, green, and white raiments, complete with a smattering of sparkles on the sidewalks, giving the residents a shiny carpet to traverse on their way to the tree lighting.
“I have gone every year with my family,” said Brayton Pierce, 13-year resident of Herndon.
He elaborates, “We light candles and drink hot chocolate, and afterwards, we have dinner with a big group of our friends at the small restaurant in downtown Herndon.”
Alexandria also has many Christmastime traditions. The Scottish Walk is an annual custom in which the local families with Scottish blood show their family loyalty and Christmas spirit by marching with their dogs and wearing various Scottish garbs, such as tartans, more ubiquitously known as kilts, that hold their family pattern. There are a plethora of tea-parties in several clubs in the subsequent afternoon, and the night of the first saturday in December is the tree lighting in the town square followed by a boat parade of lights.
“I love attending these! I can feel the Christmas spirit you know? I love the joy it gives me,” said enthused junior and longtime inhabitant of Alexandria, Sunhee Evans.
Joy is certainly the central theme of these festivals and traditions, according to the town websites. Giving joy, and promoting town spirit; a sort of loyalty to the town.
Joy and hot chocolate are two of the most consumed during these festivals.
“I estimate that there were over 30 people in the Starbucks near the walk,” said Evans, “hot chocolate was in serious demand.”
Strolling down the old streets of these historic towns during the holiday events with a warm cup of savory chocolate emanating a warm breath of air to the chilly surroundings is quite a popular notion to many of these town’s inhabitants.
Herndon and Alexandria are also, coincidentally, two of the only towns in Northern Virginia that coordinate holiday homes tours. Residents of Herndon can open their doors to the public, showing their prodigiously-decorated interiors to the adoring crowds.
“This has been a tradition since I was a child,” remarked Mary Burger, lifelong citizen of Herndon. “It’s a big deal, a huge community spirit-builder!”
Alexandrians also throw open their doors to their neighbors. “It’s a time of pure Christmas atmosphere,” said Debbi Pierce of the Homes Tours. “It really makes you proud to be from [Alexandria].”
Leesburg, another heavily populated town in Northern Virginia, not only lights a Christmas tree, it also lights a Menorah.
“We feel it is necessary to acknowledge all religious denominations, and as we are a very diverse community here. It builds camaraderie, and holiday spirit,” said a local Leesburgian who preferred to remain anonymous.
Along with Christmas tree and Menorah lighting, parades are common traditions in local holiday celebrations. As mentioned, Alexandria has parades for both people, dogs, and boats, while other towns such as Leesburg and Vienna have similar traditions.
The participation in these parades, waving at friends from the street, supporting the non-profits, and sharing holiday spirit seem to be a large part of watching these fanciful, float-bearing promenades.
Leesburg’s parade features local bands, seasonal floats, and santa waving merrily from atop a local fire engine.
Reid Frazier, a 17-year-old denizen of Leesburg remarked on this tradition, “The parade is just the right length. It’s not too long so as to be boring, but long enough to espouse the Christmas spirit. There are a lot of non-profit [organizations] in the parade, and Santa of course, and some local businesses. It’s a great way to support the town!”
Wait, there’s more.
Vienna has a traditional “walk-around” the first Monday after Thanksgiving, in which the residents of Vienna walk around Old Vienna and listen to Christmas carollers, window shop, drink hot chocolate, and for some, holding hands is involved.
“We would go with a couple other families and stroll and chat while walking up and down Church Street, drinking hot cider or hot chocolate, window shopping for ornaments, and watching the Christmas tree lighting,” reminisced Grace Cleland, Oakton resident.
Marylander Barbie McMahon said of these festivals, “We have these in Maryland too, but it always seems more coherent and seamless here.”
McMahon visits her family who lives in Herndon each year to attend the holiday homes tours and the Christmas tree lighting.
Carlin Pierce is a journalism student at the Flint Hill School. The program regularly submits stories on local issues by its students. You can read all of them by following this link.