Get Into the Spirit with These Holiday Events
Christmas and Chanukah, which begins Dec. 12, are just around the corner. To get you in the holiday spirit, we have put together a list of some holiday light displays and events in the DMV. Most are free, although not all.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
No visit to the Brookland neighborhood during the holidays is complete without a stop at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. Mother Teresa, Pope Francis, Pope John Paul II and other religious figures have visited the Basilica. The largest Roman Catholic church in North America and the 10th largest in the world dresses up with more than 50 Christmas trees, over 65,000 lights, halls decked with more than 500 poinsettias and two manger scenes, one of which is nearly life size.
Dec. 19-Jan. 8 from 7 a.m.-6 p.m. daily at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, 400 Michigan Ave. NE. Admission is FREE!
Bull Run Festival of Lights
Visit the Bull Run Festival of Lights, 2.5 miles illuminated by holiday light displays. Drive the festival route in the comfort of your car; turn out your headlights and follow the magical glow. After viewing the lights, take your family and friends to the holiday village to enjoy rides, refreshments and of course, photos with Santa Claus (holiday village open select nights).
Nov. 22-Jan. 7 from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5:30-10 p.m. Friday through Sunday as well as Christmas Day and New Year’s Day at Bull Run Regional Park, 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centerville, Va. Admission is $20-$25 per carload.
Christmas at Mount Vernon
The holidays are full of delight during Christmas at Mount Vernon. During the day, tour the mansion, enjoy the decorations, watch historic chocolate-making demonstrations and meet Aladdin the Camel. Special candlelight tours will be held Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 17 from 5-8 p.m. ($24 for adults, $16 for youth) and Christmas Illuminations with fireworks set to holiday music over the Potomac along with a bonfire will be held Dec. 15 and 16 from 5:30-9 p.m. ($34 for adults and $24 for youth with a mansion tour, $30 for adult and $20 for youth without tour).
Nov. 24-Jan. 6 including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria. Tickets are $18 for adults, $9 for children 6-11 and $16 for seniors online or $20, $9 and $19 respectively at the gate.
A Christmas Carol
Join the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they lead the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge (D.C. actor Craig Wallace) on a journey of transformation and redemption in A Christmas Carol. This lavish Victorian-style musical production has been a tradition in the DMV for more than 35 years. Scrooge’s riveting journey alongside the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future is a joy even if you have experienced it a hundred times before – especially in one of the world’s most historic theaters.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. with additional weekend and weekday matinees through Dec. 31 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. Tickets are $24-$107.
CityCenterDC, the upscale mixed-use development downtown with toney retailers like Burberry, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo, and pricey restaurants like DBGB Kitchen and Bar and Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, hosts a life-size, modern igloo made from 36,000 pounds of ice blocks in The Park at CityCenter. Styled with plush interiors by Joseph Ireland of JD Ireland Interior Architecture + Design, this one-of-a-kind, frozen structure will allow Washingtonians to fulfill their subzero dreams for a weekend. It will be open Dec. 1 from 4-8 p.m. and Dec. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Also, a dazzling 75-foot Christmas tree and two resident 25-foot reindeer on the Park at CityCenter facing New York Avenue return along with an overhead lighting display with snowflakes and white light hanging above the Palmer Alley pedestrian walkway.
Through Jan. 1 at CityCenterDC, 825 10th St. NW. Admission is FREE!
Downtown Holiday Market
The 13th annual Downtown Holiday Market is centrally located at Eighth and F Streets NW, in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Scope out eclectic wares from dozens of pop-up tents with seasonal music performed live in the background. The holiday bazaar features more than 150 exhibitors throughout its run. You will find everything from funky t-shirts and area photography to handmade jewelry and soaps. At night, its bright lights bring Penn Quarter to life, providing a holiday spark to the neighborhood. Locally roasted coffee and crafted-before-your eyes mini-doughnuts inspire a cold-weather appetite, creating a holiday atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else in the DMV.
Nov. 24 through Dec. 23 from noon-8 p.m. daily at Eighth and F Streets NW outside the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Admission is FREE!
Festival of Lights
Returning for its 40th year, the Festival of Lights celebration at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints visitor center along I-495 includes a display of international Christmas trees and creches from around the world, and a life-size outdoor Nativity scene. A different performing artist or group is featured in concert twice each night, including bell ensembles, choirs, orchestras and more. Visitors can wander the temple grounds while trying to figure out how to take good pictures of more than 650,000 lights with an iPhone.
Nov. 30 through Jan. 1 from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (lights illuminated at dusk) at the Washington D.C. Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington, Md. Admission is FREE, but tickets are required for concerts.
Garden of Lights
Step into a magical winter wonderland illuminated with more than 1 million dazzling colorful lights shaped into hand-crafted, original art forms of flowers, animals and other natural elements at Garden of Lights. Stroll from garden to garden enjoying twinkling tree forms, sparkling fountains and whimsical winter scenes. The night wouldn’t be complete without a visit inside the conservatory to enjoy watching G-Scale model trains wind through a seasonal landscape. Afterward, warm up inside the visitors center while you sip hot cocoa and listen to one of the nightly musical performances.
Nov. 24-Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24 and 25) from 5:30-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton. Admission is $20 per car or van Sunday through Thursday and $30 on Friday and Saturday.
This stroll through D.C.’s most historic neighborhood will make you light up as you pass by unique, outdoor public light art installations. Georgetown Glow has proven to be such a hit that it is now a month-long celebration. A group of artists, from locally renowned to internationally celebrated, will display works in outdoor spaces throughout Georgetown. This year’s display, which features 10 exhibits, up from eight last year, encourages contemplation of, and interaction with, the natural environment. Each work has an element of interactivity allowing the viewer to walk in, on and around the piece, while others ask the viewer to become part of the artwork. Afterwards, wander through a winter wonderland at The Washington Harbour, one of our favorite places to ice skate in the District.
Dec. 8 through Jan. 7 from 5-10 p.m. nightly along the waterfront, around the C&O Canal and up Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. Admission is FREE!
This year’s annual Ice! installation at National Harbor features scenes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Two million tons of ice were used to carve the ice sculpture by 35 artisans from Harbin, China, for the display. There are also four ice slides for adults and children as well as a crystal clear ice sculpture scene of the Nativity.
Nov. 18 through Jan. 1 from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays and 1-8 p.m. Monday through Thursday at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, 201 Waterfront St., Oxen Hill. Tickets are $17-$39.
Holiday in the Park
Millions of twinkling lights, seasonal food, seven holiday shows and more than 25 holiday-themed rides and characters make up Holiday in the Park at Six Flags America. Running during weekends and select days this winter, make the drive to enjoy the thrills of Six Flags accompanied by plenty of holiday cheer. Kids will love the interactive experiences, stunning decorations and Christmas singalongs.
Weekends from 2-9 p.m. from Nov. 18 through Dec. 23 then daily from Dec. 26-Jan. 1 at Six Flags America, 13710 Central Avenue, Bowie. Tickets are $42.99 before Dec. 1 or $47.99 after if bought in advance online or $65.99 at the gate for adults, $45.99 for children under 48 inches tall and FREE for children 2 and younger at the gate.
Light Yards brings two-story glowing, interactive spheres to Yards Park. The four spherical globes, ranging in size from 8 to 22 feet in diameter, feature shadow theater technology projecting holiday visuals onto the spheres from inside. Each sphere features different interactive elements, such as a selfie globe that allows participants to become part of the art, a globe with holiday scenes and globes that react to projected light. After touring festivals around the world in Moscow, Brussels and Jerusalem, the light installation makes its way to D.C.
Nov. 29-Jan. 1 from 6-10 p.m. at Yards Park, 355 Water St. SE. Admission is FREE!
Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights
Be dazzled by Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. Every year from mid-November until just after New Year’s Day, the garden is transformed into a half-mile, walk of lights. Revisit perennial favorites such as the animated Lakeside Lights, the Fountain of Lights and the Holiday Nature Walk, and look for new displays each year. Round out your visit by roasting marshmallows and sipping on hot beverages by the fire.
Nov. 10-Jan. 7 including Christmas and New Year from 5:30-10 p.m.at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens court, Vienna. Tickets are $13 for adults and $8 for children 3-12 in advance or $16 for adults and $10 for children 3-12 at the door.
National Christmas Tree
The National Christmas Tree will be lit on Nov. 30. The lighting ceremony hosted by Kathy Lee Gifford and Dean Cain will kick off one of the city’s time-honored traditions with a star-studded performance featuring The Beach Boys, Wynonna, Manheim Steamroller, the U.S. Navy Band and others. Visiting the live tree is free throughout the season, and musical performances are held there nightly. The Pathway of Peace surrounding the tree features 56 state and territory trees decorated with handmade ornaments that are unique to each tree.
Nov. 30 through Jan. 1 from 4:30-10 p.m. on the White House Ellipse, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Admission is FREE, but tickets are required for the lighting ceremony on Nov. 30.
Chanukah kicks off with this lighting ceremony of the National Menorah — the world’s largest menorah — on the White House Ellipse, which greets all with hot latkes and doughnuts and menorah kits and dreidels. Music from Dreidelman & the Macabees and The United States Air Force Band will add a soundtrack to the scene. As is the custom, a new candle is illuminated on each of the eight days of Chanukah.
Dec. 12-19 from 4:30-10 p.m. nightly on the White House Ellipse, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Admission is FREE, but tickets are required for the lighting ceremony at 4 p.m. (gates at 3:15 p.m.) on Dec. 12.
The Washington Ballet pulls out all the stops for this classic Christmas tale of The Nutcrakcer that features a D.C. twist. The Russian ballet goes local thanks to a Nutcracker Prince in the likeness of George Washington and cherry blossom set designs. Set in historical Georgetown, you will be dazzled by an impressive roster of dancers and the beautiful Tchaikovsky score.
Nov. 30 through Dec. 24 at 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday at the Warner Theatre, 513 13th St. NW. Tickets are $30-$150.
The annual Seasons Greenings holiday show at the United States Botanic Garden includes a collection of area landmarks made entirely from plant materials, including the U.S. Capitol Building, the Washington Monument and more. New this year is a model of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. This year’s display showcases roadside attractions. Trains will chug around, below, through and above plant based recreations of iconic sights from across America like Texas’ Cadillac Ranch, Colorado’s hot dog-shaped Coney Island Hot Dog Stand, South Dakota’s Corn Palace, New Jersey’s Lucy the Elephant and many more. There are thousands of blooms on display from exotic orchids to a showcase of heirloom and newly developed poinsettia varieties. On select Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, the Conservatory will stay open until 8 p.m. to host live seasonal music.
Nov. 23 through Jan. 1 from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at United States Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW. Admission is FREE!
Symphony of Lights
The 23rd Symphony of Lights in Columbia, Md., which benefits Howard County General Hospital, is a dazzling display of more than 100 larger-than-life animated and stationary holiday light creations made up of approximately 300,000 bulbs. There is also a laser light show and 3-D holiday video, all set to music.
Tuesdays through Sundays from Nov. 21 through Jan. 1 from 6:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays and 5:30-10 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays including Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 but not Dec. 31 at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, Broken Land Parkway and Hickory Ridge Road, Columbia, Md. Admission is $20 per car Sunday through Friday and $25 on Saturday.
U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree
This year’s U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” is a 79-foot Engelmann spruce from the Kootenai National Forest in Montana. Speaker of the House John W. McCormack (D-Mass.) was the first to place a live Christmas tree, which lived three years, on the Capitol lawn in 1964. Since 1970, the U.S. Forest Service has provided a tree from a different U.S. forest. More than 12,500 handmade ornaments representing the state symbols. It will be topped by a 5-foot tall copper star made in Montana with a representation of the state flower, the bitterroot. This year’s lighting ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Dec. 6 through Dec. 31 from dusk until 11 p.m. on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol, Constitution and Independence Avenues NW. Admission is FREE!
Winter Lights Festival
The City of Gaithersburg welcomes visitors to the 22nd Winter Lights Festival. The 3.5 mile drive through the enchanted setting of Seneca Creek State Park takes you past more than 380 illuminated displays and 65 animated vignettes that light up the night. Themed areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village, the North Pole and more.
Nov. 21-Dec. 31 except Christmas Day from 6-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 6-10 Friday and Saturday at Seneca State Park, 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg. Admission is $12 for cars, SUVs and min-vans Monday through Thursday and $15 Friday through Sunday.
ZooLights decks the National Zoo out in more than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights that transform the zoo into a winter wonderland complete with a dazzling light show set to music. Take a break and thaw your paws in the animal exhibit buildings and see the nocturnal critters in the Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center and Think Tank. The Zoo Choo-Choo takes visitors on a merry tour through the zoo on a trackless train around the Great Cats exhibit and features views of the light displays. There is also snow-less tubing on 150-foot long tracks and the solar-powered carousel will be giving rides. Ride tickets are $3 each at the zoo or $20 for eight tickets. New this year, Glow Zone is a glow-in-the-dark play zone for children that features light-up LED gams and activities in the zoo’s Great Meadow.
Nov. 24 through Jan. 1 except Dec. 24, 25 and 31 from 5-9 p.m. at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. Admission is FREE!
Editor-in-Chief Mark Heckathorn is a journalist, movie buff and foodie. He oversees DC on Heels editorial operations as well as strategic planning and staff development. Reach him with story ideas or suggestions at dcoheditor (at) gmail (dot) com.