Inauguration is a national celebration

The national tradition of swearing in the newly elected president of the United States has Washington, D.C., all abuzz.

Security experts, transportation officials, party planners, out-of-towners and local residents are figuring out the best way to deal with the impending traffic, crowds, revelry and confusion that comes at inauguration time.

Presidential inauguration festivities play out during several days. This year it runs from Jan. 15-24—and includes service projects, balls and galas, a parade, prayer service, a private swearing in as well as the public swearing-in ceremony and presidential address on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. While some are invite-only affairs and others cost a pretty penny, there are quite a few free official and unofficial inauguration events taking place in Washington, D.C.

The popularity of these historic events has certainly grown since George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president in 1789 in New York City. Barack Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 drew an estimated at 1.8 million people—the largest ever.  Crowds are not expected to be nearly as large this time around for the country’s 57th inauguration.

The theme this year is “Faith in America,” commemorating America’s perseverance and unity, marking the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the placement of the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol Dome in 1863.

Here is a summary of inauguration events:

Saturday Jan. 19 – National Day of Service

Americans are asked to participate in service projects across the country.

Sunday Jan. 20 – The president takes the oath of office in a small, private swearing-in ceremony

Monday Jan. 21 – The public swearing-in ceremony takes place on the west front steps of the Capitol, followed by the Presidential Inaugural Address. At 2:30 p.m. the Inauguration Parade, which is free and does not require tickets, kicks off along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. The parade includes members of all branches of the armed services. Viewing stands and bleachers will be stationed between Third and 17th streets. Official balls and gala begin in the evening.

Tuesday Jan. 22—Inaugural National Prayer Service at 10:30 a.m. at the Washington National Cathedral

Those without tickets to the official parties can still dance the night away at any number of unofficial balls and galas taking place in the District of Columbia and surrounding areas such as:

The Believer’s Ball from 7 p.m. to midnight on Jan. 20, $150

Warren 8 Presidential Inauguration Gala from 6 to 11 p.m. on Jan. 17 at St. Francis Hall in Washington, D.C., $60

Caribbean Inauguration Ball on Jan. 20 at the Bethesda Marriott Hotel in Bethesda, Md., $100

National Bar Association Legacy Ball from 7 to 11 p.m. on Jan. 19 at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., $300

Native Nations Inauguration Ball at 7 p.m. at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., $1,000

Georgia Society Ball on Jan. 20 at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, $150-$200

A number of museums and historic sites are also holding special exhibits related to the inauguration such as Newseum’s “Every Four Years—Presidential Campaign and the Press” and the National Museum of the American Indian’s “A Century Ago…They Came as Sovereign Leaders” photo exhibit which focuses on President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inauguration parade and the six Indian chiefs in the procession.


Thinking about going to Washington for the inauguration? It could be an experience to last for a lifetime.

Take it from one who knows from firsthand experience, being prepared is the key.

I was among the estimated 1.8 million who attended Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. Although I and my crew of five were without tickets to any events, we still took part in a number of festivities and had a memorable time.

Here’s some tips to keep in mind if joining the throng on the National Mall:

Washington, D.C., can be extremely cold in January. Break out the hats, gloves, coats and long johns. Check with a weather forecasting website days before leaving to make sure the proper clothing is packed. Consider bringing along some hand and foot warmers.

If possible, visit the National Mall days before Inauguration Day to take photos without the crowds, pick out a good viewing spot (near one of the jumbo screen is a good idea).

Plan to travel light. Security was tight in 2009 and items such as chairs and backpacks were prohibited. Carry light snacks, extra batteries and necessities in your pockets.

Check local media for entrance spots to the National Mall.

Check online for the facilities on the National Mall that will be open on the big day as a place for temporary warmth and indoor restrooms.

Don’t drink anything after 6 or 7 p.m. the night before to lessen the likelihood of having to use the outdoor port-a-potties.

Make sure phones and mp3 players are fully charged the night before.

Wear the most comfortable shoes (and possibly double pairs of socks if it’s cold).

Plan to take public transportation and check schedules ahead of time for any station closures and schedule changes.

Arrive early. In 2009 my party was on the metro by 5 a.m. and endured standing in our chosen spot for six hours. It didn’t take long for the crowds to fill in. This year might not require such early-bird arrival.

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