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Enchanted Forest Kicks Off Holiday Season

Junior League’s annual holiday festival will benefit homeless families and at-risk children.

Even though Christmas is still well over a month away, the Junior League of Northern Virginia is in the holiday spirit, with preparations in full swing for the fourth annual Enchanted Forest event to be held on Nov. 19-21 at the Doubletree Hotel on Route 7 near Tysons Corner.

Over 120 decorated Christmas trees, ranging in height from 3 feet to over 6 feet, will be on display, donated and sponsored by local families and organizations, and the trees will be auctioned off at the end of the event. Candy-covered gingerbread houses will also be up for grabs, decorated by local chefs and culinary students and families.

“The Enchanted Forest is a holiday festival for the public, but for us, it’s our primary fund-raiser for the homeless people and at-risk children we help year round,” said Nene Spivy, co-chairwoman for this year’s event.

“The trees have all sorts of themes,” she said. “We’ve got some elegant, traditional trees; some themed for kids; anything people can put on a tree we’ll accept.”

The towns of McLean and Vienna are sponsoring “Taste Of” trees, complete with gift certificates for restaurants in those areas, she said.

Some trees were decorated and donated by local businesses, but some were donated by individuals or families.

Norma Kuyt has decorated a tree with a “Decorations and Candy” theme, featuring little gold and white sewn bags filled with candy.

“I thought this would put a smile on children’s faces,” Kuyt said. “The bags are filled with Rocher candies, gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins and other candies.”

Sewing the bags took up most of the time for decorating the tree, she said, but it was well worth the effort.

“A friend asked why I didn’t just buy the bags online, but they weren’t what I wanted,” she said.

Kuyt’s father used to take toys and gifts to orphanages when she was growing up in Bangladesh, she said, so it’s in her nature to be generous during the holidays.

“He loved to take things to people to make them happy,” she said. “I really get a kick out of giving things to other people. I’ll be tickled pink when someone else gets it.”

To make the tree look more Christmasy, she will place wrapped boxes of candy underneath the tree at the Enchanted Forest as presents.

The tree will most likely be topped with a star or angel. “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet,” Kuyt said with a laugh.

“I like to see the love spread around the world, and this is my small part of that,” she said.

“CREATING THE FOREST is so important, that’s what the magic is about,” Spivy said. “I think it’s delightful for the children and adults alike who want to get into the holiday spirit, plus it’s an opportunity to educate people about what we do with the Junior League. The outreach opportunity is really important.”

In addition to the festive, brightly decorated trees, a neighborhood of gingerbread houses, donated by a local bakery, will be on display during the Enchanted Forest.

“We order the houses pre-made and have a workshop where people can come in and decorate them,” said Susan Lee, former chairwoman of the gingerbread house decorating committee.

“We usually have about 20 houses that are decorated by professionals, in addition to our novice houses,” she said. “There aren’t that many places to go to see gingerbread houses during the holidays, and people put lots of work into them.”

All of the professionally decorated houses will be judged for their presentation, Lee said, and ribbons will be given out for various categories.

“The smaller, novice houses will be judged as well, but it’s not as competitive,” she said.

The houses, and all their sugar-drenched decorations, are edible, but people usually don’t consume the goodies because by the time the houses leave the event, they’re stale, she said.

“Kids like to try to eat pieces off the houses while they’re on display,” she said. “The best part is walking into the room when they (the houses) are sitting out. The smell (of gingerbread) is so good.”

PEOPLE GET CREATIVE with their houses, including one last year that was decorated to tell the story of the “Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe,” Lee said.

“Someone from Stratford University did a ‘Cat in the Hat’ house last year, too,” she said.

Sheryl Tucker, the gingerbread chairwoman this year, said she’s ready to get to the fun part: decorating the houses and the event itself.

“Up until now, it’s been calling businesses and explaining the event, getting sponsors and donors,” she said. “There are lots of charities interested in getting community support this time of year, so I’m especially glad that part is over.”

Finding the time to coordinate the houses and those decorating them took a lot of time, considering most of the Junior League members are “either full-time moms or full-time workers,” she said. “We do this in our spare time. This is a major undertaking. I’m amazed by what people can accomplish so quickly.”

“I like seeing the houses the kids decorate, especially from the shelters we work with during the year,” Tucker said. “They go crazy with the decorating. The houses are dripping with icing.”

Walking into the gingerbread house area is quite a festival for the senses, she said.

“The smell just hits you like a wall,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”

In addition to the trees and houses, the event will include the opportunity for children to have breakfast or ice cream sundaes with Santa, or “cocoa and cookies with the Snow Fairy Princess” throughout the weekend, Spivy said. There will also be a presentation by former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, speaking Saturday afternoon from 1-3 p.m. about his new book, “Dessert University.” Vern Yip, formerly of TLC’s “Trading Spaces,” will be a guest judge of the Christmas trees and gingerbread houses and will award “Vern’s Pick of the Forest” Sunday. Yip graduated from McLean High School.

“He will also be part of a panel discussion about avoiding design disasters,” Spivy said.

For donors and special guests, there will be the Enchanted Evening Gala on Friday night, Nov. 19, featuring dinner, music, dancing and a silent auction. Tickets are available at $45 per person.