Guide to Christmas in Washington, D.C.: Kids' Events and Attractions

Washington, D.C. is a wonderful place to celebrate the Christmas holiday season with kids. The whole family can enjoy a wide selection of Christmas events and activities in the city or venture out to the nearby suburbs of Maryland and Virginia for more holiday fun. From Christmas lighting displays to visits with Santa Claus and holiday concerts, you're sure to find something fun to do with your kids in the Capital Region this year.

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Kick Off the Season at Community Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremonies

Norwegian Christmas Tree
Miller Taylor

Dozens of communities around the Washington, D.C. area light a Christmas tree in the center of their town to celebrate the holiday season. Many of the region's cities even provide entertainment and invite children to visit with Santa during a tree lighting ceremony, which usually takes place on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year.

From Alexandria to the White House, you're sure to find a tree lighting ceremony taking place near you on your trip to the Capital Region this winter.

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Attend the National Christmas Tree Lighting

2013 National Christmas Tree
Getty Images

The Christmas Tree in front of the White House on the Ellipse at President's Park has a special allure to all tourists visiting the nation's capital, but for kids, it’s even more magical. The National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony will celebrate its 96th year on November 28, 2018, and will be lit up nightly throughout the holiday season.

To get tickets to the tree lighting ceremony, you'll need to enter a lottery on the official National Christmas Tree website. There will also be live musical entertainment nightly for most of December featuring some of the country's biggest stars alongside local school groups and non-profit organizations.

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Celebrate Christmas in Old Town Alexandria

Parade of Boats
Alexandria Convention & Visitors Association

Every year around mid-November, Old Town Alexandria comes to life with holiday spirit as performers fill its historic streets, residents adorn their Victorian-style homes with bright Christmas decorations, and a whole lineup of festive events take over the city all season long.

Events kick off on the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 23, 2018) in the Historic Market Square in Old Town for the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony. Musical performers will lead the crowd in a community sing-along before the Mayor and Santa Claus light up the City of Alexandria's official Christmas tree for the first time of the season.

Old Town Alexandria also celebrates the holiday season with two parades on December 1: the Scottish Christmas Walk and the Parade of Lights. The Scottish Christmas Walk will take place in the morning and will feature hundreds of Scottish clansmen marching through Old Town while playing traditional holiday tunes on bagpipes. In the evening, the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights will light up the Potomac River as dozens of festively decorated pleasure boats cruise across the water.

You also won't want to miss the Water-Skiing Santa, an unusual annual event that features Christmas characters like The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa jet and water skiing on the Potomac River two times in December this year.

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Go Wild for ZooLights at the National Zoo


Each holiday season, the Smithsonian's National Zoo presents a display of thousands of sparkling animated Christmas lights, winter-themed crafts, ice sculpting demonstrations, choral groups, and storytellers.

The annual Zoo Lights event also features other festive activities and attractions including the National Zoo Choo-Choo, a trackless train that takes guests through the Great Cats exhibit; a 150-foot snowless tubing track; and a carousel provided by the Speedwell Foundation featuring 50 animal figurines.

The event is a favorite for kids and adults alike and will take place from November 23, 2018, to January 1, 2019. However, the Zoo will be closed for Christmas from December 23 to 25, 2018.

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05 of 12

Find Your Thrill at Holiday in the Park, Six Flags America

Six Flags America Holiday in the Park
Six Flags America

If you're looking for a thrill this holiday season, you can visit Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, during the month of December for its annual Holiday in the Park event.

On select evenings from November 23, 2018, to January 1, 2019, Holiday in the Park transforms Six Flags America into a winter wonderland complete with holiday entertainment, sweet seasonal treats, and all your favorite character dressed up in their Christmas best.

Six areas of the park will be made over to showcase holiday traditions around the world. Adorned with millions of sparkling lights and all sorts of festive decor, Holiday in the Park is an event that sure's to delight children of all ages.

06 of 12

Explore Christmas Town at Busch Gardens

Christmas Town at Busch Gardens
Rachel Cooper

Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, is one of the area's most famous amusement parks, and each holiday season, the park is transformed into a holiday village for the annual Christmas Town event.

Christmas Town returns to Busch Gardens on select dates from November 17, 2018, to January 5, 2019. This festive event combines an immersive holiday experience with one-of-a-kind shopping and dining opportunities, all-new holiday shows, and a spectacular Christmas tree decorated with dancing lights.

In 2018, you can also climb aboard the Christmas Town Express for a 1.5-mile ride through themed holiday vignettes made of two million Christmas lights; grab a picture with the 50-foot Christmas tree, Highland Stables' Clydesdale horses, characters from "Rudolph the ​Red-Nosed Reindeer," and Santa Claus; or sing and dance along to seven exciting shows including "Scrooge No More," "Elmo's Christmas Wish," "Deck the Halls,"  and "Gift of Harmony."

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Walk Through Seasons Greenings at the U.S. Botanic Garden

Seasons Greenings
Rachel Cooper

Seasons Greenings returns to the United States Botanic Gardens from November 22, 2018, to January 1, 2019. This annual exhibit features model trains and incredible replicas of Washington, D.C.'s most famous buildings and monuments, all of which are made of real plant materials.

Adults and children will be fascinated by this special Christmas-time treat in the nation's capital. The Observatory will be open free of charge daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but on select Tuesday and Thursday evenings throughout the month, you can stay until 8 p.m. for live seasonal music performances.

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Spend Your Holiday in Old Town Manassas

Manassas Christmas Parade
Photo © Carl Dunn

Old Town Manassas, Virginia, celebrates the Christmas season each year with a weekend of old-fashioned family fun at the "Merry Old Town" celebration, which takes place from November 23, 2018, to January 1, 2019.

Festivities at Merry Old Town include a parade, a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, visits with Santa, and free carriage rides through the decorated streets of this historic city.

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09 of 12

Attend a Performance of "The Nutcracker"

Ballet West Nutcracker

The Washington, D.C. area is home to some of the best theaters in the country, and this holiday season, you'll have plenty of chances to catch a performance of one of the most popular Christmas ballets in the world, "The Nutcrack," at many of these historic venues.

The whole family can enjoy this classic holiday show, which tells the story of a little girl named Clara who dreams a toy wooden soldier comes to life and takes her on a magical adventure to save Christmas.

However, the younger crowd might enjoy a more kid-friendly production like "The Nutcracker Puppet Show" at the Puppet Co. in Washington, D.C. Other performances in 2018 include the Ballet West production at the Kennedy Center from December 5 to 9; the Washington Ballet production at the Warner Theatre from November 29 to December 28; and the Academy of Russian Ballet production at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in ​Manassas, Virginia, on November 24.

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Celebrate Christmas at the Gaylord National Resort

ICE 2015
Rachel Cooper

If you're looking for an all-inclusive Christmas vacation this year, head over to the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Maryland, any time from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day for a whole lineup of great events and attractions.

ICE! is the Resort's award-winning main attraction, an interactive winter wonderland created by 40 international artists hand-sculpting over two million pounds of ice blocks into festive holiday scenes. ICE! returns with a new theme this year, "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which will be on display from November 16, 2018, to January 1, 2019.

Other events and attractions at the Gaylord include the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped Stage Show, a special breakfast with Charlie Brown (and friends), ice skating, a holiday carousel, a gingerbread decorating corner, special workshops and activities with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and access to a Build-A-Bear Workshop where kids can design their ​own Christmas present.

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Spend the Weekend at the Smithsonian Holiday Festival

Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Holiday Festival is a two-day event that happens on the National Mall on the first weekend in December each year. In 2018, events take place on November 30 and December 1 at various venues in D.C., including the Museum of American History.

The holiday event also features family-friendly entertainment including concerts by the U.S. Air Force's Max Impact, Silver Wings, and Celtic Aire, a holiday film festival featuring hits like "It's a Wonderful Life," "Elf," and "A Christmas Story," Mars Chocolate demonstrations, and trunk shows.

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Wander Through Area Christmas Light Displays

Bull Run Christmas Lights
Courtesy of NVRPA

Throughout the holiday season, you can share the magic of Christmas with your children by taking them through one of the many lighting displays set up throughout the Captial Region.

In Maryland, you can attend the Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple, drive through Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park, or wander in the Annmarie Sculpture Garden in Dowell during the nightly Garden in Lights event.

However, the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville, Virginia, is perhaps the most-popular holiday display in the region. The event features more than 40,000 lights animated to Christmas music as well as a new Winter Wonderland Holiday Village that includes an ice skating rink, amusement rides, and festive food vendors.. 

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