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The Falls Church fire department SantaMobile (courtesy photo)

Just before Christmas, Santa Claus and his helpers are coming to town, on a fire engine instead of an eight reindeer-powered sleigh.

From Dec. 20-23, Saint Nick and his elves will visit Arlingtonians who live near the Falls Church Volunteer Fire Department station, located near Fairfax Drive and Langston Blvd at 6950 Little Falls Road. He will be riding a decked-out reserve fire engine, dubbed the “Santamobile” and decorated by the department.

“During each night’s approximately three-hour run, Santa’s helpers will be handing out candy canes — and, to canine friends, dog biscuits, but only if they’ve been ‘good,'” says Santamobile coordinator Jenny Quinn. “Anyone who wishes to receive these treats are encouraged to greet Santa’s helpers at the curb. This provides the safest conditions for Santa’s helpers and ensures they have an opportunity to visit the largest number of our friends and neighbors.”

The ride through Arlington will follow a five-day run through the City of Falls Church from Dec. 15-19.

Quinn notes that routes occasionally change because of road conditions, including parking, traffic, construction and to ensure Santa’s safety. Exact routes can be found on the department’s Facebook page, where people can also follow along via Gylmpse to know where the truck is each evening, Quinn said.

If inclement weather is in the forecast, the Santamobile would be canceled for that evening “for the safety of Santa, his elves and all of residents who come out to see Santa,” she said.

The fire department will make “every effort” to update the Facebook page with any revisions to Santa’s schedule, Quinn said. She asks that people email [email protected] for more information and the latest routes rather than calling the station.

The tradition of escorting Santa Claus through the streets of Falls Church and Arlington dates back to the 1960s, she says. The bedecked fire engine would make appearances for on or two nights, after dark, at random — also known as “wildcatting.”

“As more people began asking for ‘Santa and the fire engine,’ the [FCVFD Board of Trustees] decided in 1981 to formalize the program and standardize neighborhood routes,” Quinn said. “We have been driving some of the Arlington neighborhoods closest to the station in Falls Church from the beginning.”

Today, the FCVFD volunteers don’t fight fires but they do provide ambulance support for the professional Arlington County firefighters who battle blazes in the little city. The volunteer-run station maintains a reserve fire engine, primarily to serve as the Santamobile.

Quinn says the reactions of kids and adults alike remind volunteers why they keep up the yearly tradition.

“I can’t tell you how many elderly people came out of their homes, stood at the door, and seemed like a five year old kid,” said Quinn, who dressed as an elf last year. “It brings a lot of joy to people… A lot of times the adults seem as excited as the kids.”

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The Village at Shirlington is hosting its annual holiday event “Light Up the Village” (Photo courtesy of Federal Realty Investment Trust)

The lights are being turned back on in Shirlington for its annual holiday event next week.

Shirlington’s “Light Up the Village” is set for Thursday, Dec. 1 from 6-8:30 p.m.

Like previous years, the holiday event will include a Christmas tree lighting, horse-drawn carriage rides, selfies with Santa, and a holiday market featuring local makers. There will also be strolling entertainment, face painting, and balloon twisting.

Additionally, students from Bishop O’Connell High School and Shirlington-based Signature Theatre are both scheduled to perform holiday music.

The schedule with times is below:

  • 6:00 pm Holiday Musical Performance by Signature Theatre
  • 6:30 pm Tree Lighting celebration
  • 6:40 pm Horse and Carriage Rides
  • 7:00 pm Photos with Santa (located at Hardwood Artisans)
  • Live Holiday Music Performance by Bishop O’Connell High School
  • FREE Face Painting and Balloon Twisting
  • Strolling Entertainment
  • Merchant specials and promotions

The event is free. It first started about 20 years ago.

Attendees will continue to be able to “sip and stroll,” as has been the case since 2020.

Food items and donations to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) will also be accepted at the event.

The Village of Shirlington, which is owned by Bethesda-based Federal Realty Investment Trust has had a slew of business openings in recent months with more likely on the way.

Mason’s Famous Lobster Rolls and Diament Jewelry opened at the shopping center over the summer. Greek restaurant Our Mom Eugenia is looking to open soon, while Jeni’s Ice Cream is still setting up shop in a space formerly occupied by a Thai rolled ice cream business.

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Tis the season for peppermint mochas and Santa photos.

Starbucks, famous for its ubiquity in Arlington, is bringing back its festive cups and holiday season beverages tomorrow (Thursday, Nov. 3), the company announced today.

The 2022 Starbucks offerings include Peppermint Mocha, Caramel Brulée Latte, Chestnut Praline Latte, Toasted White Chocolate Mocha, Irish Cream Cold Brew and Iced Sugar Cookie Almondmilk Latte, in addition to bakery items like Reindeer Cake Pop, Sugar Plum Cheese Danish, Cranberry Bliss Bar and Snowman Cookie.

Meanwhile, Santa Claus is coming to town — sooner than you might expect.

Santa is set to start snapping photos with children at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City on Friday, Nov. 18, according to the mall’s website. Santa will be stationed on the first level of the mall near Nordstrom.

In addition to the daily photo ops, a special “Caring Santa” session for children with special needs is scheduled for Dec. 4 and pet photos with Santa is set for Dec. 11. Santa will also be hosting two breakfasts with kids at the adjacent Ritz-Carlton hotel on Dec. 3 and 17.

Reservations for the Pentagon City mall photo sessions can be made online.

Jolly Ol’ St. Nick will be arriving at the Ballston Quarter mall a bit later than his Pentagon City counterpart. Ballston’s Santa is set to start taking photos with kids on Dec. 3 and reservations can also be made online.

If you’re really jonesing for Father Christmas, there’s an even earlier option than the two in Arlington. Tysons Corner Center mall announced yesterday that Santa will be returning there next week, on Friday, Nov. 11.

Once you pick up your seasonal Starbucks tomorrow, to get in the holiday spirit — despite this week’s relatively warm weather — you might head over to the Westpost (formerly Pentagon Row) ice skating rink. The rink officially opened to the public yesterday. As of early this afternoon, no skaters could be seen on the ice.

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The Ballston Quarter location of Heart + Paw (courtesy photo)

Dog parents can get a few photos of their furry best friend with Santa while chowing down on free donuts in Ballston over the next couple of days.

This Friday afternoon (Dec. 17) from 1-3 p.m., four-legged locals can join Santa outside of Ballston Quarter’s Hearts + Paw for holiday pet photos. The combination veterinarian, dog daycare, and grooming business opened in May.

Then, on Saturday, free donuts and hot cocoa kits from District Doughnut will be available at the mall from 1-3 p.m. along with $25 gift cards to REWILD, the trendy plant shop that opened at Ballston Quarter earlier this fall. The snacks and gift cards are available while supplies last with only one giveaway given per person. Holiday tunes will also be spun by local D.J. Cyndi Tran.

Both events are taking place at and hosted by Ballston Quarter on Wilson Blvd.

Elsewhere in Ballston this weekend is a holiday wreath market at the corner of Wilson Blvd and N. Stuart Street. That event is being organized by the Ballston BID and will feature live music, a local TikTok star (the cello-playing one), a light art projection, holiday wreaths for sale, and Santa selfies.

There’s plenty of other holiday cheer in Arlington this weekend with Christmas now just over a week away. There’s the Rosslyn holiday market (with Santa and dog photos, too), holiday light displays in Crystal City, and a number of local Christmas tree sales (depending on availability among the current tree shortage).

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The 58th annual Miracle on 23rd Street (Photo courtesy of Melwood)

A miracle is shutting down a portion of 23rd Street S. near Crystal City tonight (Friday).

The 58th edition of the holiday event “Miracle on 23rd Street” is taking place on Friday night from 7-9 p.m. at 750 23rd Street S. in the Aurora Highlands neighborhood.

The event will feature a Christmas tree lighting, hot chocolate, a “holiday-themed virtual reality experience,” music from the Bluemont Brass Quintet, and, of course, an appearance from Santa Claus, who usually arrives via fire truck. It is being put on by the local non-profit Melwood, which advocates and employs people with differing abilities.

Online registrations are being requested, though walk-up attendees will be accepted.

“Miracle on 23rd Street” will also close a one block stretch of traffic in both directions for several hours.

From 6-9 p.m., 23rd Street S. in between S. Hayes Street and S. Grant Street will be closed off to vehicular traffic, Arlington County police said.

Last year’s event was mostly virtual, though Santa did drive around the neighborhood.

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Morning Notes

Mattress Store Goes Night Night — From local tweeter @CartChaos22202: “The ⁦⁦Mattress Firm⁩ location along S. 15th Street in Pentagon City has closed… but try not to lose sleep over it.” [Twitter]

Santa Visiting Fairlington Next Week — “It was touch and go for a while, but it appears Santa Claus will be able to take part in an annual Fairlington tradition after all. The Fairlington Citizens Association is working to bring Saint Nick to the community for his annual ride on an Arlington County fire truck. The event is slated to take place on Saturday, Dec. 11.” [Sun Gazette]

Lane Closure for Bridge Maintenance — From Arlington’s Dept. of Environmental Services: “Routine deck maintenance work continues on Shirlington Road Bridge through Dec. 11. One travel lane closed at a time, 7am to 7pm including weekends. West sidewalk remains open.” [Twitter]

Opioid Test Strips Are in Demand — “Months after Arlington County’s Department of Human Services started the pilot program to dispense 100 fentanyl-testing strips, the county is renewing its opioid response grant as demand continues to grow. ‘We were out of those test strips within the first couple of weeks. Since then, since the middle of August, we’ve dispensed 604 test strips,’ said Emily Siqveland, who runs the county’s new Opioid Treatment Program.” [WTOP]

Elections Office Ready for Rerun — “Yes, Virginia, there may be a rerun of all 100 House of Delegates races in the new year. Maybe not, but possibly. If so, personnel in the Arlington elections office will be ready, they say. ‘We’ll just have to wait and see how this process plays out,’ said Gretchen Reinemeyer, the county’s director of elections, in a look-back-and-look-forward report to the county’s Electoral Board on Nov. 30.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Arlies Voting — Don’t forget to cast a vote for your favorite bakery, ARLnow commenter, coffee shop or brunch spot. Voting in the Winter 2022 Arlies awards closes on Monday. [ARLnow]

It’s Friday — It’s going to be a bit windy today, with sunny skies, a low of around 40 and a high near 58. Northwest wind 8 to 13 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. Sunrise at 7:10 a.m. and sunset at 4:46 p.m. Saturday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 55 and wind gusts up to 20 mph. Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 51. [Weather.gov]

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Santa Claus (Photo via Wikimedia Commons/Jonathan Meath)

You better watch out, you better not cry, because a fully-vaccinated Santa Claus is coming to town.

Santa is going to return to the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City starting next Friday (Nov. 19) through Christmas Eve (Dec. 24). Reservations are “strongly encouraged,” notes the mall’s website.

Santa is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a Fashion Centre at Pentagon City spokesperson confirmed this to ARLnow.

The website of the photography company behind Santa’s appearance also notes that all employees, including Santa and his elves, were required to be vaccinated by October 14, except for those with valid medical and religious exemptions.

Guests will have the choice to sit with Santa or be socially distant for their photos this year.

Masks or face shields are being encouraged for those over two years old, but not mandated at Fashion Centre at Pentagon City, a spokesperson confirmed.

“Santa’s helpers will be wearing masks throughout the duration of your visit,” notes the website.

Other safety measures in place include frequent cleaning of high touch-points and access to hands-free sanitizer.

Last year, despite increasing COVID cases and vaccines not yet being publicly available, Santa still came to Pentagon City for “safe and socially distanced” visits. At least he wasn’t in a bubble, like some other Santas across the region.

There’s no word yet on whether Santa will also be making an appearance at Ballston Quarter like in prior years.

Via Wikimedia Commons/Jonathan Meath

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Morning Notes

Va. Supreme Court Passes on Pot Prosecution Case — “The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected an effort by Arlington’s chief prosecutor to rein in judges who are skeptical of her refusal to prosecute marijuana possession. But the court did not resolve the conflict, saying it could not weigh in because it had not been asked to consider any specific case.” [Washington Post]

Big Response to Mailbox — “‘We’ve collected at least probably 500 letters in the two weeks that we’ve had the [Santa] mailbox out,’ Rachael Tolman, the Park Manager at Gulf Branch Park said. ‘It’s a lot of letters.’ The lists some children put in the mailbox looked different, with requests for masks and good health.” [WUSA 9]

Nonprofit Merger Complete — “Bridges to Independence, a Northern Virginia provider of housing and vital services for at-risk families and individuals, has finalized its merger with the Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corp., a community-based non-profit with a mission to address the health, education, financial empowerment and social service needs of people living in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood.” [InsideNova]

Pedestrian Struck in Ballston — “Police and medics on scene of a pedestrian struck by a driver in front of the Ballston Harris Teeter on N. Glebe Road. So far, the victim’s injuries sound minor.” [Twitter]

Holiday Pop-Ups in National Landing — “As part of National Landing’s mission to activate public spaces, the BID has unveiled ‘Turn Up the Love,’ a winterlong campaign featuring a series of engaging outdoor pop-ups. These festive installations include a larger-than-life boombox adorned with thousands of colorful ornaments, three shareable photo frames and even more surprises to be announced after the holidays.” [National Landing BID]

Nearby: BB Gun Shootings in FC — “Police investigated calls of vandalism and found a teen who confessed to at least 50 incidents of shooting vehicles and people. Some victims have been identified, but police believe there may be more.” [City of Falls Church]

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(Updated at 6 p.m.) This year, Arlingtonians spread Christmas cheer in new ways to bring hope to people virtually or from a distance.

Choir directors at Arlington Public Schools and Bishop O’Connell High School spent hundreds of hours stitching together student videos to create virtual Christmas concerts. A troop of Brownie Scouts virtually judged a gingerbread contest for folks at a local retirement home. And Santa is making special stops in Arlington in his pickup truck, visiting with children from a distance.

Bishop O’Connell choir director Kyra Stahr burned the midnight candle to publish videos to replace the Christmas concert, which is normally the most well-attended performance, she said.

“I feel like I got more creative in how to make that excitement and cheer possible,” she said, adding that she and her students donned Christmas sweaters and watched all the performances on Zoom.

“It worked out better than I could’ve hoped for,” DJO choir student and junior Tommy Green said. “It was a nice way to exit the year.”

Fellow junior Melanie Greig said “it was almost like we were actually singing together in a concert.”

Meanwhile, Glebe Elementary student and Brownie Scout Leah Meder virtually judged a gingerbread decorating contest at the Sunrise Senior Living facility near the school, on N. Glebe Road, along with other members of Troop 60095. From 11 participants, the young judges awarded the most festive, most creative and most delicious-looking houses, and also created a special holiday greeting for the residents.

“I still felt the spark of holiday spirit when we did this online,” said Meder, who is eight years old. “Since [the residents] are living away from people they know, and can only see them a couple times a year, they can probably have more holiday spirit.”

The festivity creativity in Arlington extends to visits by the jolly one himself.

This afternoon (Wednesday), Santa is parading his sleigh — a converted pickup truck — through Arlington neighborhoods from Foxcroft Heights to Columbia Forest, the final route after two mobile Santa visits through Lyon Park and Ashton Heights.

“It’s a tough year for everybody,” said Lyon Park resident Paul Showalter, who is playing the role of Santa. “It’s really fun to see the faces of the little kids as they see Santa drive up in his sleigh.”

This morning (Wednesday), Showalter said he made a special delivery to a boy named Charlie, who had asked Santa for boxes, thread and tape for Christmas. Neighbors and Glebe Appliance donated the boxes, and Charlie will use the supplies to make a British fleet ship.

Also spreading joy is the Yorktown High School choir, which sent the musical videos it produced to faculty, friends and family, reaching an even greater audience this year.

“These videos are my Christmas gifts,” said Jocelyn Mullins, the Yorktown choir director, who directed renditions of “Holiday Road” and “The Sleigh.”

“That’s how it’s keeping my holidays alive,” she said.

Read More

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Morning Notes

Dorsey’s Bankruptcy Case Dismissed — “Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey, whose ethical and financial difficulties have tangled him in a web of false statements over the past year, fraudulently misrepresented his assets while filing for bankruptcy, a federal court ruled Friday… It was ‘an act of overt misrepresentation,’ [bankruptcy trustee] Thomas P. Gorman told the court at a hearing on Thursday, and ‘misconduct . . . so over the line’ that punishment was warranted.” [Washington Post]

Holiday Shopping Safety Tips — “ACPD wants you to have a happy and safe holiday season. While many are choosing to shop online this year, those shopping in-store are encouraged to be mindful of these safety tips.” [Twitter]

Event for Military Families Today — “An annual Winter Wonderland for Military Families hosted by a former NFL player and his wife will look very different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Derrick Dockery and his wife Emma will hold a drive-thru version of the event that provides toys and holiday cheer to military kids and families on Dec. 7 at a parking lot in Arlington, Virginia through their nonprofit, Yellow Ribbons United.” [Radio.com]

Santa Visit Still on This Weekend — “Santa Claus has paid a visit to the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department every year for over a century and he’s not going let the coronavirus pandemic force him to break that streak. In the interest of public safety, the jolly old elf will be meeting children outside this year in the parking lot of Cherrydale Baptist Church, which is located at 3910 Lorcom Lane.” [Patch]

More on CaBi Station at DCA — “Arlington County, Virginia, has installed a Capital Bikeshare station at Reagan National Airport, making it the first major metropolitan airport in the U.S. with a dock-based shared bike program. It is the 99th Capital Bikeshare dock installed in Arlington County.” [WTOP]

Gunston Coordinator Honored — “Shantha Smith, an education coordinator at Gunston Middle School, has been named a recipient of the 2020 Mary Peake Award for Excellence in Education by the state government. Awards were presented Dec. 3 in Richmond, and were named after a pioneering African-American educator.” [InsideNova]

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Kids who want to talk to Santa Claus can drop off letters at the Gulf Branch Nature Center through Dec. 14.

For the first time, the park is collecting letters to send to St. Nick, rather than facilitating a weekend of in-person visits with the jolly one himself. In non-pandemic years, Santa visits typically drew up to 300 kids and families, park manager Rachael Tolman said.

So far this year, about a dozen kids come each day to drop off letters, she said.

Collections will end on Dec. 14, a Monday, to allow the snail mail ample time to reach the North Pole before Santa gets too busy, she said. Kids are encouraged to include their return address so he can respond with a postcard, and to bring canned goods that will go to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

“Due to the pandemic, Santa won’t be visiting, so he very kindly let us set up a mailbox,” she said. “We tried to come up with other ways to have Santa in person, but we figured that this would be the best option because everything is so up in the air from week to week.”

A mailbox is not the same as an in-person visit, but it feels vintage — “a little old school,” Tolman said.

The park manager said she “absolutely” remembers writing to Santa as a kid.

“I can’t remember what I asked for, but I remember asking about Mrs. Claus and the reindeer, and I would leave carrots out for reindeer — along with the milk and cookies — because they were doing all the work,” she said.

Tolman said she has received many emails thanking her for the mailbox from people who had always brought their kids to see Santa, and this year, were not sure what to tell them.

“They were so relieved that we put the mailbox out, so that their kids could keep the tradition of coming,” she said.

Visitors can also check out the cabin, decorated for the holidays.

“We’re glad to keep the magic of the season as best we can,” she said.

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