Metro employee spreads Christmas cheer with annual holiday display

Washington Post columnist John Kelly can't shake a holiday poem from his head as he looks back at the major events of the year.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 23, 2010; 10:23 PM

Wearing a Christmas tree hat with blinking lights, Willita Wright watches contentedly as Metro customers flow past her glittering kiosk at the 18th Street NW entrance to Farragut West Station, some of them stopping to wave at her, others perking up at the Christmas music she's playing on her portable CD player.

"I get a kick out of seeing the passengers happy," said Wright, 57, who spends her own money to decorate the station entrance and hand out toys and sweets to passengers. This year, she delighted children with train whistles and offered up baskets of candy canes at the exit fare gates.

"Christmastime is a hard time for people, and people go through a lot, so this is just to lift their spirits," said Wright, who has worked for Metro for 37 years and has been putting up holiday decorations for more than two decades.

"Some people don't have family . . . and Christmas is basically a family time," said Wright, adding that her own family includes "26 godchildren and three surrogate grandchildren and a lot of other children at the church we attend."

Giant candy canes and homemade gold ribbons adorn the handrails at the entryway to the station; the kiosk is lighted with thousands of white and blue blinking lights and star and snowflake decorations.

Wright sports a different festive hat every day on her four-hour morning and four-hour evening shifts, taking pride in a hat collection that she has been building on for 17 years.

Longtime Metro riders have grown accustomed to Wright's cheery displays, and they notice when her job takes her to different stations.

"You're here!" said Jeanne Shojaat, her face lighting up as she recognized Wright. "I was looking for you at Friendship Heights."

Shojaat, a retired museum manager, has been riding Metro since its inception and has come to anticipate the annual station dress-up. "It makes it Christmasy. It makes it friendly in the Metro," she said.

This year's Christmas array is less showy than in other years, Wright said, mainly because Farragut West is such a busy station and she cannot risk impeding the traffic flow.

In past years, she has displayed huge blow-up snowmen, polar bears, penguins, sleds and even igloos, tying them down so they wouldn't blow onto the tracks.

Wright said she has never had a negative reaction from passengers, but several have asked her whether she can fashion ribbons for their Christmas trees.

Claire Griffin, 57, of Alexandria passes the kiosk several times a week and found herself looking forward to seeing Wright's handiwork emerge little by little.

"People tend to be kind of Grinchy when they get off the Metro, but you can't help but smile when you see the lights and decorations and music. It puts a lilt in your walk," she said.

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