When the Christmas decorations appeared on the Norway spruce at Rt. 7 ‘s West Market Street interchange the day after Thanksgiving, motorists probably smiled at the continuation of a four-decade holiday tradition.
What they didn’t know is that a new generation of elves have taken over.
Since the early 1970s, a fir tree in the median of the highway just west of Leesburg each year decked out with ornaments during the Christmas season. They appeared, seemingly by magic, after Thanksgiving and disappeared after the New Year. For years—decades, really—few knew who was behind the gift to Loudoun’s commuters.
The tradition was so valued that when the fir was removed during the highway widening project in 2015, the contractors planted a new tree specifically to be decorated during the season. At that time, the team of elves—western Loudoun residents Bill Bosley, Joe Marker and Mike Breeden—fessed up publicly.
But Breeden died two years ago and Bosely and Marker have retired from the elf business.
This year, it was Breeden’s daughter, Meghan, and a group her Loudoun Valley High School classmates, who got up early the day after Thanksgiving, loaded up a ladder and boxes of decorations and headed to the site.
Breeden, 17, said she didn’t even know her father was behind the tree decorations until she was 12 years old. Her father even kept the secret from her mother.
“He woke me up one morning and took me to the tree. I really didn’t know where we were going,” she said of learning about her father’s involvement.
This year she became the ringleader.
“We didn’t want it to stop because of his passing,” she said. “It makes me happy to do it because he’s been doing it for so long.”
When her friend learned what she was doing, they jumped in to help.
“I think they may want to do it every year now. They were very excited to do it,” Breeden said. They even added their own ornaments to the eclectic collection that includes a hard hat and a race car.
“People think it is the coolest thing ever because it has been a tradition for so many years,” she said of the public response she gets.
After New Year’s Day, they’ll pack everything up again, following her father’s schedule.
Is the new generation ready to carry the on the tradition for decades to come?
“I don’t know if I’ll do it for 40 years, but I’m sure someone will,” she said.