ASK THE TIMES: Why Are Purple Bows Tied to Trees?

A reader recently asked if someone could explain all the purple bows tied to trees in Falls Church.  The short answer is “Relay for Life” as explained in an earlier story “Relay for Life Turns the Town Purple.” 

But we thought our readers would like to know more about this fundraiser that seems to be sweeping our community.  So the Times asked Sara Fitzgerald if she could provide some history and more detailed information about the upcoming event for our readers:

From small seeds, big trees can grow.

That’s the story of this year’s Falls Church Relay For Life, which will be staged at the track of George Mason High School the night of Saturday, May 30.

The Falls Church Relay, now in its third year, is one of 5,000 such events sponsored in conjunction with the American Cancer Society to remember those who have died from cancer, celebrate those who live with cancer, raise awareness about the disease and raise money to support the fight against the cancer.

Relay For Life got its start in 1985, when a Tacoma, Washington, cancer surgeon walked a track for 24 hours to remember patients who had died and to raise money for cancer research. The next year, his initiative grew to include 19 fund-raising teams, and the concept of Relay For Life was born. Now, more than 5,000 similar events are held nationwide each year, involving more than 3.5 million people and raising more than $400 million, according to the American Cancer Society.

In Falls Church , Relay For Life has followed a similar growth path. The first relay, in 2007, involved only a handful of teams. Last year, 40 teams participated, raising $80,000. This year’s relay co-chairs, Katie Clinton and Terry Rollo, were able to build on their experience from last year. So far, 75 teams and close to 700 participants have already registered and more than $84,000 has been raised, with two weeks still to go before the event itself.

This year’s relay has benefited from the strong support of the Falls Church school community. School Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin is an honorary co-chair, along with Carol Ann Siciliano, a parent of school-age children and a cancer survivor. Students at George Mason High School and Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School have organized more than two dozen teams, with help from student leaders, teachers and parents, and have developed a friendly competition with each other. Other teams have been organized by cancer survivors, relatives of persons who have died of cancer, churches and businesses. This year’s Falls Church relay has also attracted teams from George Marshall High School and from McLean . Many Falls Church businesses have served as venues for fund-raisers or are contributing food and other items to support the relay on the night of the event. The Falls Church City Council issued a proclamation declaring May to be “Cancer Awareness Month” in the city, and purple ribbons will start to appear around town as participants “paint the town purple” to help mark the event.

The relay will start on Saturday, May 30, at 5 p.m. with a special reception for cancer survivors in the Cafetorium of Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer at any time in his or her life is encouraged to come, meet other survivors, and stay on for the relay. Entertainment at the reception will be provided by the Potomac Harmony Showtime Chorus, an award-winning women’s singing group from Arlington. At 6 p.m., survivors will proceed to the George Mason track for the relay’s Opening Ceremony. Survivors walk the first lap of the relay, then are joined by their caregivers. After that, everyone is invited to join in.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. (after dark falls), the moving Luminaria Ceremony will be held. Candles donated in memory of cancer victims or in celebration of cancer survivors are lit around the track, and special music is played as participants remember those who have battled cancer. As the ceremony progresses, candles forming the word “Hope” are transformed into the word “Cure.”

Throughout the evening, music, games and contests help make the relay a lively community event. The public is encouraged to attend the opening hours of the relay; admission is free, though donations are encouraged. Luminaria may be purchased up until 9 p.m. Only registered team participants are permitted to stay overnight. The relay concludes at 6 a.m. Sunday with a closing ceremony, including awards to top fund-raisers.

Detailed information, including a schedule of games and contests, is available at There you’ll also find a listing of participating teams and their captains. You can also make a secure credit card donation to the relay as a whole or the team or participant of your choice and order luminaria in honor or in memory of your family and friends.

–Sara Fitzgerald


Previous ASK THE TIMES questions:
Why Not Use the Old Red Light Cameras?
Rolling Carts for Heavy Recycling Loads?
Status of Hilton Garden Inn?
Questions about Northgate

May 17, 2009 


3 Responses to “ASK THE TIMES: Why Are Purple Bows Tied to Trees?”

  1. Gwenn Hofmann on May 19th, 2009 4:14 pm

    The Relay for Life in Falls Church will be one of the most successful and fun events you will ever go to in the City. For survivors like me, it’s an opportunity to remind everyone that cancer, in some way, will touch everyone. Through special events like the Relay, we can all gather to have fun while raising money and doing something very important: celebrating those who have survived, and remember those who lost their battle. You will find the Relay inspirational, heart warming, and a place to go where you can comes together for a common purpose.

  2. Janet Rodriguez on October 28th, 2009 11:53 pm

    Purple Bows was started by me in 1991. The purple bow was chosen because cancer is a battle and the metal a soldier gets is a PURPLE heart. I staarted it with the late actor Michael Landon.

  3. carlos on June 25th, 2013 12:03 am

    My wife started Purple Bows for anyone with or anyone who has been touched by cancer. It began in 1991 when the late actor Michael Landon was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was the beginning of awareness ribbons.

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