Gritty and Wawa give Capitol Hill holiday contest a Philly twist
When the decorations contest resumed after a pandemic hiatus, “the first thing I did was order the inflatable Gritty,” U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon said.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Blow-up Gritty on Capitol Hill.
People are decorating their homes, offices, and pretty much anywhere they can reach with a ladder for the holidays. And in one hallway of the Longworth House Office building, where some members of the House of Representatives work, the decor is Philly, through and through.
As part of an informal competition, staff for U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D., Pa.) decided to up the decoration ante in the hallway outside her office: They went full Philly/Delco. The decorations include lights in the shape of Boathouse Row, presents wrapped in Wawa gift paper, and the pièce de résistance, a life-sized inflatable Gritty, donning a Santa hat and a Christmas scarf.
“The hall where my office is, a couple of years ago, that particular hall decided to start celebrating the holidays and have an informal competition to see who could do the best decorations,” Scanlon said Friday. “When they started this year, the first thing I did was order the inflatable Gritty because that is so much Philadelphia/Delco, where I represent.”
The prize in Scanlon’s hallway has been bragging rights, she said. The competition was on hiatus last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but now that it’s back, Scanlon and her staff wanted to do everything Philly-themed.
After she had ordered the Gritty, the bug-eyed, singularly lovable mascot for the Flyers, Scanlon’s staff started brainstorming. During a routine Wawa run, inspiration came to Scanlon.
“I guess about the same time I stopped at a Wawa and saw the red and white paper that they use to wrap the hoagies,” she said. “We reached out to Wawa and said ‘Can we get this paper to wrap things?’ ”
The Wawa-wrapped presents are nestled safely under a garland-outline of a tree, itself dotted by and topped with Wawa-brand geese. Along the wall in blue and white lights is the iconic Boathouse Row and a North Pole with arrows pointing to Philly, Delco, and Montco.
“It’s been so funny how many people come down the hall and they start looking at the presents and say, ‘Wait that’s Wawa paper,’ ” said Scanlon.
Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a brief encounter with the Philly decor Thursday night, coming face to face with Gritty.
“I’m not quite sure she knew what to make of Gritty,” joked Scanlon.
Though the competition has been loose and informal for some time, recently a local TV news affiliate told Scanlon and her staff that they’d be ranking the decorations and announce a winner. The race was almost lost before it started, said Scanlon, with the visiting reporter being a self-proclaimed Capitals fan.
But Scanlon and her Philly decorations are back in the competition, she said.
“We’re now in the final four because there’s been so much Gritty love happening,” she said. “We have clawed our way into the final four. There’s been a little good-natured trash talking because that’s what we excel at in the Philadelphia area.”
The quirky and light-hearted competition has been a source of comfort for many Capitol Hill staffers after a year where working there has been difficult, said Scanlon. As the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol building nears and a longtime House employee was arrested this week for having a gun, a bit of fun is much-needed, she said.
“Between COVID and the extreme polarization in Congress right now, it is difficult to find common ground on issues,” she said. “So having something like this where both parties can share holiday cheer is important. You always look for opportunities to find common ground. And this has been a good way to do that.”