Two elves sit in a bar and order a cocktail. After overhearing the conversation beside them between two bachelors, they decide to chime in. “Oh wow, you guys are the ones who decorated that tree on the Old Seven Mile Bridge?” they ask. “How’d you get up there, and get everything up there, what did you use to power the lights, and who made the awesome Keys Strong sign?”

The non-elves answered back, trying to impress the cute bartender serving drinks, but the real elves knew who put in the work and let the bachelors have their fun with their own Florida Keys Christmas Story.

The planning started months ago, over cocktails: the scheming of how to decorate the affectionately known “Fred the Tree” located on the remote, inaccessible part of the old bridge between Marathon and Ohio Key.

“I’ll tell you there is a lot of planning that goes into this,” said anonymous elf number 1 – AE1. “It takes months to plot and Irma almost threw a wrench into this.”

After the storm, two of the 10 elves took a helicopter ride over the drop zone to see what was still left. Fred stood, as well as Randi, the smaller tree beside Fred. The waves didn’t seem to crash over the bridge, considering a ladder and a couple of the supplies used each year to assemble and disassemble the tree were still around.

“We were giving each other high fives in the helicopter,” said AE2. “It was a Christmas miracle.”

Anonymous elf number 5 shared her sentiments of the tree. “Driving back home after Irma, it was a relief to see Fred still there,” AE5 said. “I didn’t know if my house was still there, but Fred gave me hope.”

As the tree does for many. With its own Facebook page, and the decorating of the tree being shared more than a thousand times with a reach of 140,000 on a video on The Weekly’s Facebook page, Fred is pretty popular and a source of happiness for those who cross the bridge.

“It’s like the rose that grows out of the sidewalk,” said AE2, who talks to the tree like an old friend while decorating it. “We love you, Fred.”

So, at 8 a.m. on D-Day (decoration day!), two boats load up with the elves for the trip out to the bridge. AE1 and AE3 scale the bridge like little elf ninjas and throw a ladder over the side for the others. A pulley-system brings up solar powered electrical systems, two angels, two ladders, a Keys Strong sign, one super huge tree topper star, 30 lobster trap buoy “Christmas” balls, 1,500 feet of Christmas lights, six buckets of tools (and peanut butter…), and one cooler filled with champagne, several cases of Coors Light, a couple sandwiches and a bag of chips. Elves get thirsty and hungry when they are working hard.

AE4 through AE6 meticulously zip-tie and clip what seems like a million plastic lines to the stretched-out mile of Christmas lights (ok, it’s really 1,500 feet, but it feels like a mile…), while AE7 through AE10 prep the tree and set up the signage on the side of the bridge. Passerbys honk and take pictures out their window as they see the elves in action.

After about eight hours, the mission is complete and Fred isn’t the only thing that is lit. The trip back is filled with high-fives, and fun stories mostly about the need for peanut butter in the supply kit.

“For the rat traps,” said AE1. “A few years ago, all the lights went out on the tree and we didn’t know why. We had to take a special trip to figure it out and sure enough, rats had eaten through the tree’s lights.”

Who knew?

So, thank you, anonymous elves, for completing the task every year and brightening the spirit of the Florida Keys (and giving random boys at the bar something to brag about).

Fred the Tree has been getting lit for about 12 years now, when two anonymous elves added a couple decorations to the tree. It has since evolved into the Christmas tree it is now.

The elves decorate Fred the Tree each year and, every year, strive for secrecy due to the quasi-legal nature of bridge storm. “Let’s hope we don’t show up on Keysso; that would spoil our anonymity,” said AE4, laughing.


Kristen Livengood is a Marathon High School and University of South Florida grad, mom of two beautiful little girls, and wife to some cute guy she met in a bar. She enjoys red wine, Tito's, Jameson, running (very, very slowly), and spearfishing.