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Silver and Gold: First Night Alexandria Celebrates 25 Years of Holiday Cheer

Seven hours of non-stop, concurrent and successive top-notch entertainment- from Del Ray to Old Town.

Rocking and ringing in the New Year with Bill Kirchen & Too Much Fun at the Torpedo Factory Art Center- a get-ready-for-the-really big-show tradition during First Night Alexandria. (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

ALEXANDRIA, VA – Overture, curtain, lights. This was it! The 25th Annual First Night Alexandria rang in 2020, as well as the new decade, to thousands of revelers across the city following seven hours of non-stop, concurrent and successive top-notch entertainment from Del Ray to Old Town.

“It takes an entire year’s worth of effort and an absolute village to put on the best New Year’s Eve party around for thousands of guests from around the world,” said First Night President and Board Chair, Laurie MacNamara on her personal Facebook page.

Marilyn Patterson and her event management company, Joyous Events, spend all year preparing for Alexandria’s First Night celebration. (Courtesy photo)

Marilyn Patterson and her Joyous Events management team, the First Night Alexandria Board, plus 200+ volunteers, performers, and event staff rolled out the city’s welcome wagon and red carpet. The crowd included people traveling far and wide across the Washington Metropolitan area, as well as holiday visitors from all around the globe. Numerous languages could be heard among the throngs anxiously awaiting the midnight culmination of First Night: the grand illumination fireworks!

First Night’s Early Days

First Night celebrations began to gain popularity over three decades ago as an alcohol-free, safe, family-friendly alternative to more expensive and oftentimes inflated restaurant offerings.

 The Vaughan Ambrose Trio at the Principle Gallery is always a must-stop on First-Night. (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

The very first city to host a First Night was Boston back in 1975. A small group of artists seeking an alternative way to ring in the New Year organized the event. The event was much smaller then but quickly snowballed into becoming the premier First Night event within the Mid-Atlantic region. Many of the performers return each year to the same host venues, becoming an end-of-the-year tradition for many Alexandrians to welcome them back.

Evolution and Expansion Over the Years

With the burgeoning popularity of the event venues expanded from City recreation centers, the Masonic Temple and the Torpedo Factory to offices, shops, fraternal organization lodges, and parks.

Fireworks illuminated the waterfront at the base of King Street as thousands of onlookers oohed and ahhhed. (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

Until about ten years ago the firework finale was held atop Shuter’s Hill at the Masonic Temple. Relocating the firework’s launch location proved to be a boon for the First Night festivities and the attendance grew exponentially.

RELATED: Alexandria’s Most Shared Christmas Photo and the Man Who Took It

All Aboard!

The popular Old Town Trolley transports First Nighters to the various venue locations, leaving the driving to the jovial trolley conductors who greet guests making merriment with genuine, patient smiles throughout the evening.

The Alexandria Trolley is free all the time, and it particularly helpful on First Night! (Courtesy photo)

Trolley destination dashboards displayed holiday messaging: ”Welcome First Night”, “Happy New Year”, “Ride Free”!

Website Crashes but Community Weaves 

Alexandria Chamber  of Commerce Immediate Past Chair Charlotte Hall “womanned” the ticket sales table at the Olde Year’s Day event at the Torpedo Factory from early on, while later serving as a gracious hostess until the stroke of midnight fireworks ended the Art Center soirée.

Past Alexandria Chamber of Commerce President Charlotte Hall selling tickets at the Torpedo Factory during First Night Alexandria 2019. (Photo: Scott MacConomy)

First Night Alexandria President and Chair of the Board of Directors, Laurie MacNamara, a veteran of the event organization, spent the silver soirée putting out a few fires preceding the firework finale. At one point the website was misbehaving. First Nighters fielded that curve by finding fun along the way at almost every turn around the corner.

OTHER HOLIDAY NEWS IN ALEXANDRIA: Goal Exceeded! More Than $7K Raised to Give Arthur Sixsmith a Happy Holiday

MacNamara reflected upon the success of the 25th anniversary, “We were thrilled by the support of the community at First Night; we believe we had a record crowd enjoying our performances and Kids Karnivals across the City. First Night has been integral part of life in Alexandria for the [past[ 25 years and we are pleased so many guests from across the country and beyond celebrated our milestone anniversary with us.”


Despite the arrival of nippy cold air, the overall atmosphere was one of good cheer and avid anticipation as the clock ticked toward the next decade of the 21st century.

The spectacular rocket illumination above the river proved a fitting end to the second decade since the millennium; welcoming the roaring twenties with riotous cheers upstaged by social media aplomb: selfies snapped incessantly while directors of Facebook Live feeds and YouTube productions slammed the internet.

#TwentyTwenty has gone viral already with virtual tidings of promise, hope, and resolutions made to break in the new year to come.

Happy New Year to all!

Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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