Washington DC’s Christmas activities will make anyone feel festive, regardless of whether you are a shopper, theatergoer, walker, or ice skater. Here is my list of the Top 13 Holiday Things to Do in the nation’s capital. Holiday magic abounds for visitors as well as residents.
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One of my favorite things to do is visit the outdoor holiday light show in Georgetown. 2023 represents the 9th edition of Georgetown GLOW. Running 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. nightly from Friday, December 1 through Sunday, January 7, it features five works and artists.
In 2022, the most popular installation was The Cloud Swing. It was a series of swings suspended from three glowing cloud structures located in East Market Lane (3276 M St NW). Color and light were created as people swung through the air.
DC Holiday Lights
Described as “DC Dazzle, DC Holiday Lights features multiple DC neighborhoods decked out for the holiday. It will run through January 7. More than a dozen commercial corridors are participating, including the historic Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, and U Street neighborhoods. Visitors can participate in a scavenger hunt to win prizes.
“Secret codes for the citywide DC Holiday Lights Scavenger Hunt have been hidden in businesses around DC.”DC Holiday Lights
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens hosts its annual Holiday Open House on November 28. Former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the museum’s holiday decorations are a feast for the eyes. Discover elaborate Christmas trees staged in the family’s personal rooms.
Explore the decorated Christmas trees located throughout the mansion. Visitors can participate in hands-on workshops, guided holiday tours, and the annual Russian Winter Festival at the mansion.
“A Very Merriweather Christmas at Hillwood draws inspiration from the new biography Marjorie Merriweather Post: The Life Behind the Luxury, with resplendent Christmas trees and holiday decor throughout the estate.”Hillwood Museum
In the visitor center, visitors will see a dramatic tree decorated in bold black, white, and red. It takes its inspiration from the LIFE magazine covers on view in the special exhibition Mid-Century Master: The Photography of Alfred Eisenstaedt. The holiday exhibit includes vintage cameras and mid-century-style ornaments.
A Christmas Carol
While you might want to say Bah Humbug to seeing A Christmas Carol at the Ford’s Theatre, ignore your Ebenezer Scrooge inclination. This is a family tradition for most Washingtonians.
Charles Dickens’ novel presents the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. They frighten, cajole, and ultimately drag the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey of transformation and redemption.
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year …”Charles Dickens
While billed as “A Ghost Story of Christmas,” A Christmas Carol is a perennial reminder that Christmas lives in our hearts.
Downtown Holiday Market
Conveniently located just blocks from Ford’s Theatre, the Downtown Holiday Market features small businesses and entrepreneurs across the region selling their wares. I like to just wander from stall to stall to smell the candles and soaps and browse gifts.
There are 70+ exhibitors including Black-owned and minority-owned businesses from the DC Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD).
The 18th Annual Downtown Holiday Market runs daily through Dec. 23. Hours of operation are 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. The city closed an entire block on F Street NW between 7th and 9th Street. The main grand entrance is located on the sidewalk in front of the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Several “selfie stations” are set up to pose with loved ones (human or furry friends).
No purchases are necessary as DC’s outdoor shopping village is free. But there are vendors selling food and hot beverages. Buy a donut and then find a seat in the pavilion to watch singers and musicians perform on the live stage.
After you finish your shopping, head over to Jaleo’s to enjoy tapas and sangria. Seating is provided outside in a covered area festooned with holiday decorations.
Or you choose among three other restaurants operated by ThinkFoodGroup in the Penn Quarter. They are Zaytinya, China Chilcano, and Oyamel Cocina Mexicana. After you finish your cocktail and a small bite, button up your coat and head down to the U.S. Capitol.
Capitol Christmas Tree
Known as “The People’s Tree,” the Capitol Christmas Tree looms large on the West Lawn in front of the U.S. Capitol. Since 1970, the U.S. Park Service has procured the Christmas tree from different national parks for Christmas in Washington. Over the last decade, the species of the tree include Nobel Fir, Engelmann Spruce, Sierra White Fir, and Lutz Spruce (the first tree from Alaska).
This towering tree stands in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol—which is “a symbol of the American people and their government, the meeting place of the nation’s legislature” (www.VisitTheCapitol.org).
The 2023 tree came from the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. The park is located in the central Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. Monongahela National Forest announced that the 2023 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree has been named “wa’feem’tekwi” by the Shawnee Tribe.
“The name means ‘bright tree’ in the Shawnee language and is pronounced phonetically ‘wa thame tech we.’”
U.S. Botanical Garden
If you manage to wake up before sunrise, you can enjoy the U.S. Capitol Tree shimmering in a glow of red, yellow, green, and white lights. It is then a short walk across the circle to the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The Architect of the Capitol also lights the trees in front of the entrance. In previous years, the lights rotated between different colors. I was bathed in purple, blue, and red lights. (I also recommend visiting at sunset.)
This year, the Botanical Garden presents “Season’s Greenings.” An outdoor G-gauge train display can be visited in the gated outdoor gardens during these dates between the hours of 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. Tickets are not required.
I visited the train display with Parker (my Golden Retriever). He was fascinated by the black Santa Fe train rushing across the bridge.
The train display is located in the gated outdoor gardens. It also features Patrick Dougherty bicentennial stickwork sculpture, Rose Garden, and Regional Garden of native plants, and more). It is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Visitors can also now go inside to see the garden exhibits. The Conservatory will feature poinsettias, holiday decor, and D.C. landmarks made from plants. My favorites are the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
The Conservatory and outdoor train display will be open until 8:00 p.m. on Tuesdays in December.
Festive adornments, winterberries, lighted trees and shrubs, and conifers and greenery are placed throughout the Botanical Gardens. It is closed on Dec. 25.
Canadian Embassy Christmas Tree
Within view of the U.S. Capitol is the Canadian Embassy. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Each year the Canadian Embassy decorates a huge outdoor Christmas tree inside the Rotunda of the Provinces & Territories.
At night, the columns glow red and black. The majestic tree can be seen by all who drive or walk down Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It is definitely worth a detour.
Capitol Hill Neighborhood
Roaming through the streets of the Historic Capitol Hill neighborhood is one of my favorite jaunts during the month of December. I describe it as “Miracle on A Street NE.” I love to walk my Golden Retriever dog (Parker) here in the morning before work. A sign posted on one resident’s house points to “Sleigh Rides,” “Hot Cocoa,” and “Ice Skating.”
Neighbors compete to create Christmas tableaus featuring cartoon characters, reindeer wearing red light necklaces, hedgehogs in LL Bean hats, and chubby gnomes. There is even an inflatable Christmas monster. My favorite is Snoopy lying on the roof of his dog house. It is decorated with a string of Christmas lights.
Usually, near Christmas Eve, a few houses on A Street NE will hang a string of colored lights and giant red Christmas ornaments on the stately trees. Check out my YouTube video: https://m.youtube.com/shorts/KpANZ2Olt9o
National Christmas Tree
Not to be confused with the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree, the National Christmas Tree adorns the northeast quadrant of The Ellipse. According to the National Park Service, “the tradition of the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse began with President Calvin Coolidge over 90 years ago when he lit a 48-foot Balsam Fir from Vermont decorated with 2,500 electric bulbs in red, white, and green on Christmas Eve 1923.”
The lighting ceremony for the 2023 National Christmas Tree occurs on November 30. The National Christmas Tree site will open to the public on December 2. CBS Network will broadcast the National Christmas Tree Lighting special at 8 p.m. ET on December 15.
Visit the National Christmas Tree in President’s Park on the White House Ellipse. You will also see trees decorated with handmade ornaments from 56 U.S. states and territories. There are nightly musical performances.
The Heurich House in Dupont Circle organizes an annual Christmas market German-style (December 1-3) in Washington D.C. Held in the walled garden, the market features artisans selling gifts.
Consumers can sip on a “Senate” brand beer or consume mulled wine (“gluhwein). The market features handmade gifts, such as candles and jewelry as well as chocolates. A ticket costs $2-$19. The “Christmas Cheer” ticket includes an adult beverage as well as an entrance to the market.
“2023 marks the start of a new decade for the Heurich House Museum’s annual Christmas Markt. Supporting over 1,000 small businesses since its inception, the small garden market has evolved into a key incubator for Washington, DC’s makers and craftspeople.”Heurich House
This is the 12th edition of the Christmas market which features local artisans. The Heurich mansion was built by local artisans in 1894. Craftsmanship and entrepreneurship are an important part of the museum’s history.
The term lobbying is reportedly derived from businessmen who congregated in the lobby of the Willard Hotel during the Lincoln Administration during the Civil War. While you will still see business people, the Willard Hotel also attracts well-heeled tourists.
During Christmas, the Willard Hotel is decked out with a giant Christmas tree as well as poinsettias. In the evening, the hotel features local singers who perform in the lobby. Hum along with Michael Buble’s version of It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas everywhere you go . . .
“There’s a tree in the Grand Hotel, one in the park as well . . .”Meredith Wilson
Located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, the Willard Hotel is an easy walk to the Metro Center shopping district as well as restaurants. Opened in 1818, this luxury hotel is known as the “Residence of Presidents.”
No holiday celebration is complete without seeing a holiday concert at the Kennedy Center. This year, the calendar of events includes Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s Magnificat.” NPR’s “A Jazz Christmas” is always a sellout. The National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) Pops will stage “A Holiday Pops” in mid-December. In addition, the Millenium Stage North features free tickets (requiring ticket reservation in advance) for 6 pm shows. The NSO also will take its programming on the road. The Anthem will feature the NSO’s Ugly Sweater Holiday Concert.