In many places summer is a time for carnivals. In others its rodeo season. And, in still others it signals outdoor arts and craft shows. In Alexandria, summer is for festivals — highlighting multiple cultures, customs, foods and entertainment.
All in all, there are a dozen festivals throughout the city this year from June until Labor Day. Most feature the customs, traditions, dress, music and food of a particular ethnic group or geographic location. The one thing they all have in common is a learning experience encased in a day, or days, of fun.
Alexandria summers offer a microcosm of America on parade.
The first of 2008 is the 16th Annual Armenian Festival on Saturday, June 7, from noon to 6 p.m. at Market Square, 301 King St.-- rain or shine. It began as a way for Alexandrians to support the earthquake victims in Gyumri, Armenia, which became an Alexandria Sister City as a result of that humanitarian effort.
Now co-sponsored by the Alexandria-Gyumri Sister City Committee and Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, the festival continues to benefit a wide array of humanitarian endeavors. To accomplish that mission it offers food, arts and crafts, live entertainment, dancers, instrumentalists and vocalists.
Metered street parking is available surrounding Market Square and throughout Old Town's core area. There are also a variety of public parking facilities, including a multi-level garage under Market Square that can be accessed from South Fairfax Street. For additional information call 703-883-4686.
The next day, Sunday, June 8, is the eighth annual Arlandria-Chirilagua Festival from noon to 7 p.m. at the Mt. Vernon Village Shopping Center, 3700 block of Mt. Vernon Ave. Free parking is available at 221 Glebe Road.
Co-sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department working conjunction with Tenants and Workers United, this festival offers not only food and beverages but also children's activities and live entertainment. It will be canceled in case of inclement weather. For additional information call 703-684-5697.
THE LARGEST EVENT of the summer, as far as multiple activities, space and attendance, is the Annual Red Cross Festival June 14-15. Held each year at Oronoco Bay Park, 7 N. Lee St., at the river's edge in Old Town, it serves as the primary fundraiser for the Alexandria Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Featuring a series of activities, rides, and a wide assortment of food, it runs from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. each day. For additional information contact Sharon Grant at the Alexandria Red Cross 703-299-2524.
July holds special meaning for Alexandria. It does not officially celebrate the national patriotic holiday of July 4. Instead it celebrates it own birthday that preceded the nation's by 27 years.
On July 12 Alexandria will hold it's 259th Birthday in Oronoco Park, 7 S. Lee St. Eight days after the nation marks its 232nd birthday on July 4.
Featuring a concert by the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra, the evening with be toped off by a fireworks display over the Potomac River and the ceremonial cutting of birthday cakes by members of City Council. Included will be refreshments, novelty sales, and exhibits. The rain date is July 13. But, that will entail only a fireworks display.
July 26, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Market Square hosts the 2008 African Heritage Cultural Festival. It's theme this year is "Reaching Back Moving Forward."
Commencing with the Grand Processional, events include Pouring of Libation, African drummers, dance, gospel, jazz and reggae music, children's activities, community exhibitors, and cultural commercial sales. There will also be plenty of food and beverages. For additional information call 703-883-4686 or visit alexandriava.gov.
Aug. 2 Alexandrians have the opportunity to participate in one of the most historic activities of this early American community -- The Friendship Fire Company Festival is held at the home of what is known as George Washington's Fire Company, 107 S. Alfred St. Co-sponsored by the Alexandria Fire Department, this festival is specially designed to delight Alexandrians of all ages.
On display is firefighting equipment from Colonial times to the present. The Friendship Fire Co. museum offers a glimpse into the past of fire firefighting. It's early membership included the Father of this nation.
Various pieces of equipment and apparatus are on display as well as participation by various vendors and the cutting of the traditional birthday cake. For additional information call 703-838-4994.
On that same day, Aug. 2, beginning at noon and running until 7 p.m., is the annual Irish Festival at Waterfront Park, 1 A Prince St., sponsored by Ballyshaners,Inc. For the Irish challenged Ballyshaners is Gaelic for "Old Towners."
As from its conception, the Master of Ceremonies will be Alexandria's own irrepressible Irishman Pat Troy. And, from all indications, he will still be insisting that Waterfront Park, which he dubbed several years ago "No Name Park," be renamed "Fitzgerald Park" in honor of the most prominent Irish founder of Alexandria.
In addition to Irish arts and crafts, Irish-American food and beverages, the festival also features all day entertainment by such groups as the Maple School, Culkin, Boyle, and O'Neill-James schools of dance; City of Alexandria Pipes & Drums; and Washington Scottish Pipes and Drums. There are also concessions throughout the park selling Irish memorabilia and heritage items.
For additional information call the events hotline at 703-883-4686 or the Ballyshaners at 703-237-2199 or visit www.ballyshaners.org.
Rounding out the festival season on Sunday, Aug. 24, from noon to 6 p.m. at Ben Brenman Park, 4800 Brenman Park Drive, next to Cameron Station, is the "Festival of Cambodian Culture." It features artistic performances, arts and crafts exhibits, folk games and sports, traditional Cambodian games, a live band, as well as food and refreshments.
Proceeds from this festival go toward promoting Cambodian Culture in the United States as well as funding Cambodian higher education. It is co-sponsored by the Cambodian Community Day Committee and the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Affairs.
For additional information contact: Sophia Tep - 571-218-9513; Mony Suong - 571-234-7074; or Mealy Chhim - 571-228-4142. Information is also available on the Web site www.CambodianCommunityDay.org.
In addition to the festivals, Alexandrians can also enliven their summer evenings by attending:
Various Cinema Del Ray outdoor film festivals beginning June 21 at the Mount Vernon Avenue ball field commencing at dusk. Known as "Del Ray Movie Night," they are sponsored by the Potomac West Business Association.
An Outdoor Film Festival at Ben Brenman Park from July 25 through July 27.
Finally, there is the "One Love Community Festival" on Aug. 16 from noon to 8 p.m. at the Braddock Fall Field. It is under the sponsorship of Operation HOPE. For information call Lenwood Harris at 202-285-1240.