In the company of Santa and Mrs. Claus and dressed in holiday red, Ann Parker Gottwald helped usher in the holiday season at The Jefferson Hotel during its 31st annual tree-lighting festivities on Monday night.
Flanked by her husband, Thomas E. “Teddy” Gottwald, and four of her five sons and their wives, Gottwald is the 2017 Richmond Christmas Mother, which means she leads fundraising efforts for needy families throughout the holiday season.
The Richmond Christmas Mother Fund is a decades-old tradition sponsored by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which absorbs the administrative costs. From the fund, The Salvation Army Central Virginia receives a $150,000 grant to support its Christmas Distribution Center, though upward of an additional $100,000 is awarded to various holiday assistance programs, thanks to a partnership with The Community Foundation.
High spirits and holiday music moved throughout the expansive hotel, though further cause for celebration included an announcement from Gottwald earlier in the day that a special challenge grant has been created to encourage local businesses to contribute to the Richmond Christmas Mother Fund. An anonymous local foundation will match all area business contributions to the fund up to a total of $64,000.
“I’m very excited that this local foundation has come forward to encourage businesses to participate,” Gottwald said. “All donations from local businesses, large or small, will be matched until we reach $64,000.”
“This is a real boost for the fund,” she added, “and it means that more needy children in our community will have a brighter Christmas.”
Thomas A. Silvestri, president and publisher of The Times-Dispatch, called challenge grants “rare” and thanked Gottwald for her efforts.
“We are so thankful for this commitment,” said Silvestri, noting that the grant “is a special way of generating donations that also help dozens of nonprofit organizations doing good deeds throughout the region as part of the Richmond Christmas Mother campaign.”
Watching the festivities unfold from the packed staircase above the hotel’s ground level, 8-year-old Haley Moore peeked through the crowd in front of her for glimpses at the parade of characters — including members of Richmond Ballet and Richmond Flying Squirrels mascots Nutzy and Nutasha — that preceded the tree’s illumination.
She sang along to “Here Comes Santa Claus” as the big man himself and Mrs. Claus made their way down the stairs toward the switch that turned on the tree’s lights.
Her mother, Terry Moore, said this was their first time to The Jefferson for the holiday event. Her husband, Chuck Moore, was a member of the band Offering, which played during the festivities.
“She heard there was hot chocolate and cookies,” Moore joked about her daughter’s intentions.
Upstairs from the tree, executive pastry chef Sara Ayyash stood guard near the large confectionery creation of Santa in an airplane. Each year during the tree-lighting festivities, the hotel reveals its gingerbread creation, and this year’s is made from 200 pounds of baked gingerbread, 150 pounds of royal icing and at least 100 pounds of decorative candies.
She explained the story behind Santa’s flying vessel — “this year Santa’s reindeer are sick” — and then joked with a patron about having a sweet tooth this time every year.
“My dentist loves me,” she said.