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

Washington, D.C. is a wonderful place to celebrate the holiday season. With the nation's capital all dressed up for Christmas, plus the nearby suburban neighborhoods in Maryland and Virginia doing their part, the fun of the season shines on throughout the D.C. metro area.

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 that will get the whole family into the Christmas spirit.

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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 celebrate the lighting of their Christmas tree with a big gathering. Suburbs like Silver Spring and Leesburg, as well as D.C. landmarks like Union Station and the Fairmont Hotel, all have their own way of celebrating. Many of the region's cities even provide entertainment and invite children to pose for a photo with Santa during the tree lighting ceremonies, which most typically takes place on the Friday after Thanksgiving each year or at least during the first week of December.

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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. The National Christmas Tree lighting will take place on December 2, 2019, and will stay lit every night 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 lineup of festive events takes over the city all season long.

Events kick off on the Friday after Thanksgiving 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 7, 2019: 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 on December 24, 2019 at 1 p.m.

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Go Wild for ZooLights at the National Zoo

ZooLights
FONZ

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 29, 2019, to January 1, 2020. However, the Zoo will be closed for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Eve

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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, 2019, to January 1, 2020, Holiday in the Park transforms Six Flags America into a winter wonderland complete with holiday entertainment, sweet seasonal treats, and all your favorite characters 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 will be sure to delight children of all ages.

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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 16, 2019, to January 5, 2020. 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 2019, 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," "O' Tannenbaum," and "'Twas the Night."

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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 28, 2019, to January 5, 2020. 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

In Virginia, Old Town Manassas celebrates the Christmas season each year with a weekend of old-fashioned family fun at the "Merry Old Town" celebration, which takes place from December 6 to December 25, 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
Luke-Isley

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 Nutcracker," at many of these historic venues. However, the renowned place to see the Christmas classic is at the Washington Ballet, which will be presenting the show from November 23 through December 29, 2019.

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.

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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, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," which will be on display from November 15 through December 30, 2019.

Other events and attractions at the Gaylord include the Cirque Dreams Unwrapped Stage Show, a special breakfast with the Grinch, ice skating, a holiday carousel, a gingerbread decorating corner, special workshops, and activities with Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

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The Smithsonian's Winter Family Festival

Smithsonian-Holiday-Festival.jpg
Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

The Smithsonian Winter Family Festival is one-day event that happens on the National Mall in December. In 2019, events take place on December 14 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Museum of American History. The holiday event features family-friendly entertainment including Rudolph Story Time, holiday haiku writing, and musical performances from local choir groups.

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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 Capital 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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