The Memorial Day Parade and Festival functions almost as an annual open house for the City of Falls Church. Visitors from all across the Washington, D.C. metro area (and beyond) get to experience the hospitality of the Little City while capping it off with a one-of-a-kind show to boot.
Unfortunately, the traditional Memorial Day bonanza won’t be taking place for the second year in a row due to the coronavirus pandemic. What the City won’t allow itself to do is completely punt on the festivities as it did previously, and is instead bringing it to each and every resident in town.
“Although we’re unable to host our Memorial Day Parade and Festival as we typically do, we have been able to modify a number of our annual activities as well as incorporate a few new ones,” Scarlett Williams, the City’s Recreation and Parks Department’s special events coordinator, wrote to the News-Press.
We’ll get to those fun new activities in a bit. For now, let’s focus on the more serious parts of the occasion.
The City will honor the military at the annual Memorial Day Ceremony at 11 a.m., and will follow that up with a performance by the Quantico Marine Corps Band at 12:30 p.m.
Following that is the marquee event — the parade. Starting at 2:30 p.m., the parade route essentially circumnavigates the entire City.
Starting on Great Falls Street, it will head west to N. West Street, down the usual Park Avenue stretch and then up N. Washington Street. From there, it will zip from Columbia Street to Tuckahoe Street and then down Roosevelt Street before going back toward the City center on Hillwood Avenue. It will ping around multiple neighborhood streets until it concludes at the intersection of S.
West Street and W. Broad Street (Check out the map on this page for a better idea of the route).
Williams said the parade itself will feature vehicles from multiple City departments, including police cruisers, sheriff motorcycles, fire trucks, ambulances, dump trucks and more. It will also feature the 2020 Grand Marshal, former Vice Mayor and longtime teacher Lindy Hockenberry, as well as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Falls Church City Public Schools mascots.
What’s missing, of course, are some of the staples that attendees have come to love. The Latin American dancers and their colorful garb. Certain religious groups and their own grand displays. And of course, the Shriners and their comically small red cars.
And vendors will be left out of this year’s festivities as well. Williams said that most were understanding of the changes, but Joe Cunniffe, the franchise owner for Mosquito Hunters of McLean-Falls Church, wasn’t one of them.
“I’m disappointed in the cancellation of the Falls Church Memorial Day parade,” Cunniffe wrote to the News-Press. “It was a significant boost to my small business in 2019 and it’s a great way to see my current customers and introduce my business to those who are not aware of what we do to help people take back their yards from mosquitoes, yet still be pollinator friendly.”
Grand Marshal Hockenberry thinks the modified celebration is the right move for the time being. As someone who was an advocate for City employees during her time in office, she’s happy to have them as part of the parade (especially the dump trucks), and is excited to have her grandson ride along with her.
Williams did say there was a ton of thought put into trying to include the various parade participants, but logistically it just couldn’t work.
“With taking the parade out to the residents and increasing the length of the route, it would be super challenging for the Shriners to do their tiny car tricks and the walking groups to walk the entire length of the parade,” she wrote. “Our 2019 parade had close to 75 groups participate, if we included all of them, the parade would last all day and residents wouldn’t be able to enjoy all of the other activities we’re planning.”
Those other activities are a mix of familiar and new to Memorial Day celebrants.
The Don Beyer 3K Fun Run makes its return for the 40th year this May. Runners will be doing the race virtually, and will need to complete their walk or run from May 24 – 31. Williams said no proof of time or participation is required, though if people want to receive their free t-shirt (and I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t?) they’ll need to register by May 14. T-shirt pick up will be between 8:30 – 10:30 a.m. outside the Community Center (223 Little Falls St., Falls Church) on Memorial Day (May 31). They can pre-register at fallschurchva.gov/memorialdy2021.
The new activity is the scavenger hunt the City is putting on. They did something similar during Halloween where kids scoured the City parks searching for letters that they’d have to decode to win a prize. This time around, Williams said the hunt will focus on Military Rankings and will run from May 22 – June 1. She said it’s open to all ages and no registration is required, with more information found at fallschurchva.gov/hunt.
Since it’s an outdoor event, some may be wondering why it wouldn’t be safe to hold the usual event. The Washington Post reported last month about a London-based study that found 96 percent of all Covid-19 infections took place indoors. After all, Viva Vienna, which also falls on Memorial Day weekend, is holding their event, albeit with ticketed attendance, a 550-person cap and a two hour time limit for entrants, on top of other modifications.
But Williams told the News-Press that Viva Vienna is, for one, spread out over three days, and two, has more of a controlled space to work with.
“Our Annual Memorial Day Parade and Festival brings in 15,000+ attendees from a number of surrounding jurisdictions, some even coming from out of state,” Williams wrote. “A number of the festival locations become very crowded during specific times of the day, making it difficult for our staff to enforce [Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s] executive orders. With the event covering a vast area, we would have had to enclose the entire festival area.”
Williams said that the City is excited to hold its first, in-person event in over a year.