Alexandria, VA – “Both Sides Now,” written by Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell,1 appeared on the U.S. singles chart during the fall of 1968. Mitchell was speaking of clouds — and life and love — appearing differently depending on which side you’re seeing them from. That song came to mind when, having just walked in last year’s Scottish Christmas Walk, I was musing about parades.
I’ve seen parades from two sides. First, I photographed them. Later I walked in them. I’ve loved both sides, but they are very different. I haven’t done yet another side – organizing them, determining which groups will march and the order they will march in. I have great admiration for the folks who do that.
I photographed a lot of parades when I was a freelance photographer for the Alexandria Gazette. Then I looked for two things. The first was a good place to shoot from, where I wasn’t shooting into the sun, but what I was shooting was lit by the sun. Sometimes I stood in the middle of the street. Shots of pipe bands and soldiers in Colonial garb can be strong images when photographed head-on. Other times I looked for places where the route curved because that would give me parade-watchers in the background.
The second was something unusual, something I hadn’t seen before, but that touched my heart. Those “somethings” were most often families, particularly children and pets.
Years later, after I founded Living Legends of Alexandria, I marched with the Legends in the George Washington Birthday Parade and Scottish Christmas Walk. Joe Shumard, who was recognized as a Living Legend in 2011, played a major logistical role with both. With the help of the Dash Bus Company, he arranged a trolley for those Legends who preferred to ride. Sadly, Joe died in October 2020.
I remember walking one year, bundled up for the cold, my coat covered with a plaid shawl, with a red knitted hat and red mittens. I wore a smile that wouldn’t quit despite the rain that turned into light snow.
Parades. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a “parade” is a public celebration of a special day or event that usually includes many people and groups marching down a street or riding in cars or floats (think of Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade).
Maybe it’s the colorful costumes. Perhaps it’s the sound of drums and bagpipes. Or it’s the excitement of seeing the bands, the girl and boy scouts, and the dog clubs showing off their pets.
It’s been said (I don’t know who was asked) that cave dwellers would walk back into the village with the animals they killed during the hunt on their backs or hanging from poles so that everyone could see what great hunters they were.
For whatever reason, most people love parades.
The Scottish Christmas Walk may be unique to Alexandria. Each year since 1969 (except for the pandemic years), the holiday begins with the Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend.
The St. Andrew’s Society of Washington, DC, started the Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk on St. Andrew’s Day 1969 when a bagpiper led a contingent of society members to the Old Presbyterian Meeting House to lay a wreath on the grave of William Hunter, founder of the original St. Andrew’s Society formed in Alexandria.
The commemoration was moved to the first Saturday after St. Andrew’s Day so more members could participate. The event continued when the Alexandria YWCA became involved. The wives of many society members were members. Their connection continued when, in the 1970s, the YWCA became the independent Alexandria Community Y and then, in 1991, the Campagna Center (named in honor of Elizabeth Ann Campagna, 1919-1991). The weekend raises funds for social services in Alexandria.
Last August, the Campagna Center announced a new partnership with Visit Alexandria and the City of Alexandria to produce the 51st Annual Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. In December, I walked the Walk.
I used to think I could walk forever. Not so much anymore. Now I experience intermittent peripheral neuropathy (my legs get numb and I can’t take a step), and I carry a cane most of the time, just in case.
I wanted to walk with the Zebra team in the 2022 Scottish Christmas Walk, but when the forecast was for chilly rain, heaviest at the time of the parade staging, I emailed publisher Mary Wadland that I might wimp out. She responded that the Zebra would have a car in the parade and I could ride the whole route or a part of it.
Despite the rain on parade morning, I decided to take her up on the offer. I rode with editor Kris Gilbertson (the Zebra driver) for a while. Then I walked, smiling broadly, cane in one hand and a copy of the latest Zebra in the other. Photographer John David Coppola got a great shot of me smiling as I walked along. It reminds me how much I love parades – from both sides now.
Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Kris. Thank you, John.
1 Last fall, People magazine briefly published an obituary for Joni Mitchell on its website, sparking panic on social media over the fate of the legendary musician before the gaffe was fixed. Joni is still very much with us.
Mosaic Artist/Photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria