With the flick of a switch, things got a little brighter on the National Mall tonight.
At dusk the National Park Service officially lit up the Washington Monument, which has been fully encased in aluminum scaffolding since May.
It’s part of the multi-million dollar repair job needed after the East Coast earthquake of August 2011, which caused significant damage to a number of D.C. landmarks – including our city’s first and most visible monument.
Washington, D.C. has always been a special place to commemorate Memorial Day.
There’s the wreath laying and decorating of graves across the river at Arlington Cemetery, the parade down Constitution Avenue, the concert on the Mall, and tributes at the various war memorials. And there’s the omnipresent rumble of motorcycles as Rolling Thunder rides into town.
But if you venture beyond the Mall and into one of the District’s historic neighborhoods, you can pay tribute to the very beginnings of Memorial Day and the man who helped to start it all – General John A. Logan.
His impressive statue is the centerpiece of Logan Circle, which is probably the most beautiful circle in the city. It’s also one of the most residential, and is more often the site of picnics, dog-walking, and bocce ball than official ceremonies.
But each year on Memorial Day there is a small but meaningful commemoration in the park, with a wreath laying at the base of the statue sponsored by the Logan Circle Community Association, the Illinois State Society of Washington, D.C., and the National Park Service. This year there was an Army Color Guard and a concert by a Marine Corps band.
There were also remarks by one of Logan’s biographers, which probably helped answer the question that even most Washingtonians would have to ask:
Who was General John A. Logan, and what does he have to do with Memorial Day?
Tonight most of us in the District will be spending New Year’s Eve celebrating with a watch party to see the ball drop in Times Square.
But every December 31st, there’s another type of watch night gathering – one that commemorates the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect on January 1, 1863.
The very first Watch Night was held around the country on New Year’s Eve 1862, by African Americans and abolitionists waiting to hear word that Abraham Lincoln had signed the Proclamation.
The night was dubbed Freedom’s Eve, and witnessed the first major step toward the abolition of slavery in the United States. It also added a new significance to what had been an end-of-year religious tradition for many Protestant churches by creating a new tradition for African American churches.
The District has some great holiday traditions – from the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and Menorah, to the decorations in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, to present shopping in Georgetown.
But there’s always room for making new history, and so I added a couple of traditions to my holiday list this year.
One was Holiday Primetime Libations at the new Union Market.
I managed to catch the last of these end-of-week happy hours this past Friday, and it made me wish I had gone sooner. What better way to get into the the holiday spirit than by imbibing a few?
We sat at the bar of the excellent soda shop Buffalo & Bergen, which acquired its liquor license just this month. Lucky for us, because veteran DC mixologist Gina Chersevani whips up a great punch, as well as a cocktail list guaranteed to keep you warm.
The other new tradition on the list was ice skating with a view of the Potomac.
It’s Columbus Day today – and whether you love or loathe the historical figure, he has a pretty significant association with the District.
Namely, our name.
The capital was named by the three commissioners who were appointed by President Washington to prepare and plan the new Federal City. In 1791, they decided it would be called the “Territory of Columbia,” and the “City of Washington.”
They made this choice with a significant anniversary looming – the 300th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World.