For those who grew up in Leesburg prior to the mid-1980s, the sight of Santa Claus circling the skies in a helicopter may not have been unfamiliar.
It was a town tradition for the better part of a quarter century starting in the 1960s. Santa would land in a field behind the shopping center and be greeted by a large crowd of delighted spectators, young and old alike.
This year, the tradition returns.
New Virginia Village owner Brian Cullen, who acquired the property from the Ours family in the summer, said he discovered old photographs of the Santa landings when he was looking at the property.
“So I got this harebrained idea,” of bringing it back, he said.
Cullen checked with the local authorities—the town, aviation experts, etc.—to see whether landing a helicopter at the shopping center would even be allowed. When he got the all clear, he and his PR firm connected with Rusty Foster, of BowTie Strategies, to help plan the event.
Foster recalls the event as a young boy growing up in Leesburg, and said when he spoke to his mother about it, she, too, waxed nostalgic, recalling Santa’s aerial expeditions and his arrival at the Ben Franklin store, to the delight of young ones. He believes the Dec. 16 reincarnation of the event will bring together up to three generations—including those who had witnessed the past events, and young ones seeing the start of what both he and Cullen hope to be a renewed tradition.
Activity at the Virginia Village shopping center begins early Saturday, Dec. 16, with the regularly scheduled Leesburg farmer’s market, which will go on as planned in the parking lot from 9 a.m. to noon. There will be a few special holiday touches, including a wreath maker and mistletoe vendor.
During the day, the Loudoun County High School marching band will provide a musical backdrop for those staged in the parking lot. The high school’s art club is designing a “bullseye” for the helicopter’s landing spot, Foster said.
Santa is expected to arrive around 10 a.m., and will begin hearing children’s wishes in a specially designed Santa’s workshop that will be set up in currently vacant retail space next to Bicycle Outfitters. Pictures and face time with St. Nick will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A photographer will be on hand taking pictures, which will be uploaded to a site where parents may download them for free. In addition to sharing wish lists with Santa, children will also have the opportunity to make a special ornament gift for mom and dad inside the workshop. Hot chocolate and cider will also be provided free of charge.
Visitors to Santa’s workshop are asked to bring a new toy, book or piece of athletic equipment to be donated to the Loudoun County YMCA.
Outside of the workshop, there will be several food trucks with food for purchase. Confirmed to exhibit are Spitfire, which offers Mediterranean food, SunDay Chicken, and a dessert food truck, Foster said.
The event will take place rain or shine. A backup plan is in plan if weather conditions make an aerial arrival too perilous. Event-goers are asked to park across from the shopping center at Destiny Church, or in the side parking lot of Rite Aid.
If early indications ring true, it expects to be a popular event. Foster said online RSVPs for the event have already climbed north of 350 attendees, and expectations are for up to 1,000. Cullen said he wants to rebuild the event into an annual community tradition, one example of his company’s, Keane Enterprises’, commitment to Leesburg even as he evaluates redevelopment options for the property in the years ahead.
“This is reinforcing that we’re not here to just knock [the shopping center] down and start over,” he said.
Adding to the nostalgic nature of the event, the iconic Santa in his sleigh with reindeer displayed at the shopping center is the one that long hung in the downtown area between King and Market streets.
Although the event is free, attendees are asked to RSVP so organizers can have a good idea of headcount. To RSVP or for more information, go to SantaVirginiaVillage.com.