Holiday Decorating Contest Spreads Joy, Friendly Competition, and Some Mischief

By Samuel Lopez, staff writer; photos by Samuel Lopez and Richard Frederickson, staff photographer
Photo of the crime scene mini-golf hole where Grandma was struck by a golf cart

The scene of Grandma’s hapless encounter with a golf cart in Building 362. The cardboard golf cart—and Grandma—jutted out over the hole (center-left).

Standing outside of Building 362, there was little to indicate anything out of the ordinary, but inside, a holiday mascot had run over Grandma with a golf cart.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities, even though the wrecked cart and the crime-scene outline of Grandma’s body on the floor suggested otherwise. Nearby NCI at Frederick employees offered assurances that it was all in good fun.

The unusual scene—a golf-themed nod to the Christmas song “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”—was just one of the many creative decorations in the R&W Club Frederick’s Fifth Annual Holiday Decorating Contest. It was also Hole Six in Building 362’s competition-winning entry: a fully functional mini-golf course called “Tee’s the Season.”

Besides the unfortunate grandma, the course boasted eight other holiday-inspired holes, including a darkened hallway with scenes and characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas as well as “the North Hole,” a room decorated like Santa’s wintry domain. Visitors to 362 were invited to pick up a putter, ball, and scorecard to play through the course. Once finished, they could turn in their scores for display on TV screens around the building.

Building 362’s victory makes 2018 the second consecutive year they’ve taken first place in the “Large Areas & Buildings” category.

“We needed [a theme] that reflected the many ideas submitted from the team. … And frankly, we just wanted to play mini-golf,” explained Jillian Deshazer, manager of the Web Design and Development group, part of the 362 staff. “It was a great challenge, and I am very proud of the 362 team for pulling it off.”

Second place was awarded to Building 430—also runner-up in 2017—for “Elves off Shelves: A Christmas Tradition Gone Bad.” Throughout the building, groups of rampant elf dolls smashed their shelves, toppled and toilet-papered traditional holiday decorations, went on a crime spree, and “kidnapped” employees. In one office, an elf-doll fraternity threw a toga party complete with party lights and a poker game. In another, the elves set fire to Santa’s post office—a mound of letters wrapped in flame-colored holiday lights.

Employees in 430 also made sure to poke fun at their rivals in 362 by covering a conference table with a green tablecloth and decorating it like a golf course. Signs throughout the building proclaimed, “Putt putt is lame!” and invited visitors to the toga party for “real fun.”

“We love what [the competition] does for morale, and we even get some of our reclusive employees to come out of their offices!” said Stacy Taylor, administrative assistant in the Enterprise Information Technology Directorate and a member of the 430 team. “It’s a very fun rivalry, and I can’t wait to see the competition [next] December!”

Third place went to Building 310’s “Holiday in Hawaii” theme that put a tropical twist on the competition. Participants covered one hallway with an archway of black paper and toy torches to recreate Maui’s famous Hana Lava Tube. Elsewhere, a construction-paper volcano erupted colored plastic lava onto a ceiling light, casting a red glow over the floor. Bulletin boards showed off postcard-style photos of Hawaiian landmarks, while fishing nets, paper vines, and construction-paper palm trees adorned the walls and ceiling.

A New Category—and Three More Winners

Other groups’ decorations were so impressive that the judges created a second category, “Small Areas & Offices,” to recognize outstanding participants who didn’t have the space or resources to decorate on the scale of the larger buildings.

In the new category, Building 539-1CB captivated the judges and won first place by transforming an administrative area and breakroom into a gingerbread village. An employee wearing a homemade gingerbread-woman costume stood at the entrance and offered cookies to visitors. Inside, rows of gingerbread houses made from construction paper, cardboard, and cotton lined the windows and walls.

“This is our second year participating and we got our first win!” said Karen Saylor, research associate in the Laboratory Animal Sciences Program in 539-1CB. “We had a lot of fun decorating in the evenings, listening to Christmas music and laughing. … We all enjoy decorating for Christmas, and joining in the decorating contest just brightens our holiday season even more.”

The Pathology/Histotechnology Laboratory (PHL) in Building 469 won second place with “PHL Express,” a salute to the Christmas film The Polar Express. The decorations, which included a cardboard snowman and a tree, were crowned by a four-foot-tall locomotive emerging from a wall and chugging toward a laboratory entrance. Like the film’s protagonists, PHL employees also sported their pajamas as they greeted visitors, each of whom received a PHL Express boarding ticket for stopping by.

“This was our first year of many to come,” said Kasey Degrange, research technician in PHL, part of the Laboratory Animal Sciences Program. “Next year we are looking forward to expanding our ideas to participate in the large lab space category.”

The Scientific Library received third place for their decorations celebrating Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Signs placed in various areas recalled locations from the book, like Ebenezer Scrooge’s house and bank. In one area, a table displayed the banquet of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and nearby, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come loomed over Scrooge’s grave.

The judges also awarded honorable mentions to two other groups: Building 571 (“The Grinch That Stole Christmas”) and Building 542, rooms 608 and 609 (“A Charlie Brown Christmas”).

Win or lose, many competitors say they had fun participating, and some have already chosen their theme for next season.

Members of Building 362’s “Tee’s the Season” team (First Place, Large Areas & Buildings)Members of Building 430’s “Elves off Shelves” team (Second Place, Large Areas & Buildings)Members of Building 310’s “Holiday in Hawaii” team (Third Place, Large Areas & Buildings)Members of Building 539-1CB’s “Gingerbread Village” team (First Place, Small Areas & Offices)Members of the “PHL Express” team (Second Place, Small Areas & Offices)Members of the Scientific Library’s “Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’” team (Third Place, Small Areas & Offices)Part of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” hole in Building 362’s “Tee’s the Season”Some of the course’s holes, such as “Elf on a Bender,” were parodies of holiday traditions“The North Hole,” the finale to Building 362’s nine-hole mini-golf courseVisitors playing through the course could choose a nation to represent when submitting their scores for display around Building 362One of many vandalized decorations in Building 430’s “Elves off Shelves” themeAn employee and intern were “kidnapped” and restrained with garland during the elves’ rampage through 430Building 430’s “Foe Cart” and miniature golf course—a jab at their friends in 362The Hana Lava Tube in Building 310’s “Holiday in Hawaii”Employees explore the jungles of Hawaii in Building 310Building 310’s beach scene covers a wall (foreground), while employees stand in the glow of the construction-paper volcano (background)The gingerbread greeter in Building 539-1CB’s gingerbread villageA gingerbread neighborhood in Building 539-1CBThe gingerbread village’s post officePHL employees donned their pajamas as part of their “PHL Express” decorationsNCI at Frederick employees received boarding tickets for visiting the PHL ExpressIn addition to cinematic elements from “The Polar Express,” the PHL Express included traditional holiday decorations, like a Christmas treeThe Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come—a tower of books covered with paper and cloth—gestures to Ebenezer Scrooge’s grave in the Scientific Library (left), while the banquet of the Ghost of Christmas Present adorns an adjacent table (right)The Scientific Library’s rendition of “A Christmas Carol” used antique items to recreate the look and feel of a 19th-century ChristmasThe Scientific Library’s version of an old-time Christmas treeThe Grinch glares across Building 571’s breakroom as part of the “The Grinch That Stole Christmas”Cindy Lou Who looks from her window to see the Grinch’s sleigh piled with pilfered gifts in Building 571Several strands of snowflakes were hung in the Building 571 entrywaySnoopy and Woodstock share a relaxing snowy day in Building 542’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”Building 542 captured iconic moments and items from the film, like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (center-left, background)A Christmas tree sale in Building 542’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas”