Alexandria, VA – Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn have done it! After scouting for the Del Ray Christmas tree by air over the Naughty Pines tree farm in Dickerson, Md., the perfect specimen has been identified. They found it in Anderson’s single engine Cirrus airplane, and all they have to do now is inspect it on the ground, cut it down, lift it onto a trailer, and haul it over to Mount Vernon Avenue, where the community anxiously awaits the annual tradition of the tree and menorah lighting to happen precisely at 6 p.m. on Dec. 8.
“Anything worth doing is worth overdoing,” Anderson told The Zebra. “It seems like in Del Ray things happen more organically and are more kind of neighborhood-driven. So, our goal is always to make our tree look look more satisfying and presentable than the Old Town Christmas tree.”
Blackburn and Anderson are partners in the Homegrown Restaurant Group, and own Pork Barrel BBQ, Holy Cow, and The Sushi Bar right across the street from where all the action is – Pat Miller Square at the corner of Mt. Vernon and East Oxford Avenues. It’s where you’ll want to be on Dec. 8, and the evening will include performances by the T.C. Williams High School choir, photos with Santa, and additional illumination from thousands of luminarias along Mount Vernon Ave.
The tree lighting ceremony began in 2010, with a much smaller tree.
“We handed out hot cider the first year that there was a tree in Del Ray, but it was only six feet tall,” Blackburn said. “There were like 500 people gathered around a six-foot-tall Christmas tree. You couldn’t even see it.”
Anderson told Pat Miller, one of the Queens of Del Ray, that the small tree was unacceptable.
“So, I told Pat that this Charlie Brown Christmas tree stuff is really sad,” Anderson recalled. “Well, the problem is that you can’t find any Christmas tree farms that sell trees any bigger than 12 feet. They grow them all to 12 feet and then they cut them down, and after I called about a dozen Christmas tree farms, I finally called the National Christmas Tree Growers Association. We found this guy out in Poolesville, Md., about two-and-a-half hours away and we found a 25 foot tree.”
Eight years later, Blackburn and Anderson have gotten the procurement and set-up down to a science. The entire experience can cost the pair up to $4,000 every year, and to help with the labor involved ended up recruiting Mike Dameron, a local home builder.
“We rent a crane, a forklift, and literally lift the tree up into the air, put it in, tie it off with all the ropes and with the Old St. Nick spirit everybody decorates the tree with lights and jingle balls and it’s a good kind of communal get together,” Dameron said.
Blackburn and Anderson both said that Christmas was big at home when they were kids.
“Mike’s into and I’m into it. It’s tradition, and traditions are cool. I love traditions. Mike’s the same way,” Blackburn said. “It’s cool when you get something that works out and doing it every year becomes more and more fun. You look forward to it, and I love that there’s so many great traditions in Del Ray, and that this is just one of them.”