By Aja Beckham
Though it will certainly be different than usual, this holiday season is expected to be cheerful in Congress Heights. A float featuring go-go bands and Santa Claus will belt out holiday tunes while passing out goodies and businesses will participate in a tree and storefront decorating contest to earn cash prizes.
“It really started with me at home thinking about what a crappy year we’ve all had and trying to find ways that can lift the spirits of our community,” says Monica Ray, president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation, which is putting on the events.
Ray says she called on other organizations for help. More than 100 sponsors lent a hand donating trees, gift cards, and other gifts for the event, which is a first in Congress Heights. Some sponsors include the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, and Don’t Mute D.C.
A mobile sled called Go-Go Santa Express will depart from St. Elizabeths campus on Saturday, December 19 at 2 p.m. and travel through Congress Heights. Ray says Santa and Mrs. Claus will ride the sled with go-go bands on the back, including Backyard Band and Ms Kim and Scooby.
Much like the mobile holiday ZooLights experience, the float will commute through the neighborhood, allowing neighbors to check out the scene while still social distancing.
During the ride, the Clauses will hand out 7,800 gift bags. Each bag will have a skully hat courtesy of The Museum, gifts from Monumental Sports, socks, ornaments, and info about the non-profit’s work to help residents access education, career, housing, and mental health programming.
CHCTDC is also organizing two decorating competitions: one for local storefronts and another for Christmas trees. Thirty-six Congress Heights businesses are participating in the storefront contest, and Ray is encouraging them to “go to the extreme.”
“We provided a starter kit to stores, which was 100 feet of lights and one blow up piece,” says Ray. Some businesses have chosen themes like Candyland or Motown Records.
Meanwhile, community non-profits and individuals will decorate 30 trees this week for a second contest. Decorators will have four days to adorn each tree with their chosen themes, including The Cat in the Hat and Harley Davidson. Other groups are decorating their trees to honor first responders, influential Ward 8 leaders such as Marion Barry, and residents who were victims of gun violence. The trees will extend from MLK Avenue towards the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
All business storefronts and trees will be lit at once on Friday, December 18 at 6 p.m. Then, a panel of community residents will judge the most creative storefront and tree. The winners will be awarded cash prizes.
“What we wanted to do was create a destination so that people can literally get in their cars with their families in a very safe way,” says Ray. “They can drive down the avenue and enjoy a Christmas-like celebration.”