Meet Brody, the Christmas Labradoodle. Every year, all kinds of creatures – elves and angels, polar bears and reindeer – spring to life to help add magic to the holiday season. Why not a labradoodle?
Brody doesn’t make toys, pull flying sleighs or even market carbonated beverages, but he is a trusted companion in making sure One Loudoun’s Christmas Tree Lighting goes off without a hitch.
Brody’s human friend, Kris Hjort, owns K&H Landscaping, the firm responsible for selecting, transporting and decorating the giant tree that lights up the Plaza at One Loudoun every winter. Hjort said he and Brody make the final check every year to make sure the tree lights up when the switch is thrown.
“We finish everything up Friday, and I don’t get much sleep Friday night,” Hjort said. “It has become a tradition every year that I wake up at 4 or 5 that Saturday morning and I take Brody and make one last check to make sure everything is good.”
This year’s tree-lighting is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. on Dec. 1. The event will include entertainment, crafts for the kids, holiday horse-and-wagon rides, S’mores and other refreshments. Santa Claus will help light the Christmas tree and then pose for free photos.
There will be a live, 10-foot ice sculpture demonstration and appearances by Poppy the Troll and the Sugarplum Fairy.
“The Christmas Tree lighting is very special to us at One Loudoun,” said Andria Chatmon, Eastern Division Marketing Manager for RPAI Management. “We see it as a way to invite the community in and welcome them to the holiday season. This is our big ‘Thank you’ for the community and way to show that we appreciate their patronage.”
Hjort has been providing and decorating the One Loudoun tree since the event started six years ago under Miller & Smith, the original developers of One Loudoun. Over the past year, management has transitioned to RPAI, which agreed to purchase the property for more than $150 million in September 2016.
“It goes back to Bill May and Julie Dillion,” Hjort said of the original idea for the giant tree at One Loudoun. “The beauty of the tree is that Bill and Julie both wanted to have a live tree – a tree that looks like all the rest but that could be replanted after Christmas. So we always use a live tree that is replanted the first week of January somewhere in the community.
“A buddy of mine owns a nursery over in Maryland. I pick the tree every year. Julie went with me the first year, but since then I have just sent her a picture and she gives it the OK. He digs it up and brings it on a big truck. We use a crane to lift it from the road and put it in a big box (full of dirt). We cover the box and then we just have to decorate it.”
Being a landscaping contractor, Hjort has most of the equipment he needs to get the job done. He said he rents a cherry-picker to reach the top of the trees, which range in height from 25 to 35 feet.
“The One Loudoun philosophy is that we always have to take one holiday at a time,” Hjort said. “So we can’t bring in the Christmas tree until Thanksgiving is over. We are pretty busy getting the tree into place and getting it decorated and ready for Dec. 1.”
The tree lighting kicks off a busy month for One Loudoun. The Jingle Bell Rock & Run is scheduled at 9 a.m. on Dec. 15. There will be 5K and 10K races and a Jammie Jingle 1K fun run for people who don’t want to change out of their pajamas to run.
A new event this year at One Loudoun is LightUP Fest, an eight-week exhibition that combines the latest lighting technology and artisan crafted lanterns with acrobats and other performers.
The festival begins Nov. 8 and runs until Jan. 2. LightUp Fest features 77 lighted displays presented in four themes: Tour of Fantasy, Freedom America, Mysterious East and Magical World.
Events run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. daily. Tickets are available for individuals and in family packages. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit TheLightupFest.com.
When the holidays are over, the decorations are taken off the tree and it is replanted. For Chatmon, who remained in her position through the sale from Miller & Smith to RPAI, planning begins right away for the next Christmas.
“We are planning this all through the summer,” Chatmon said. “We reserve our Santa every January, because Santas are not all the same and we want to make sure we have a really great one. We start playing Christmas music around the office in July, because we have to get in the mood to start planning this.
“This is our big hurrah, that’s how we look at it. It’s one of the things we can do to give back to the community. When that tree goes on, and you see a kid’s face light up – there is nothing like it.”