Like most things in 2020, the holiday season in DC will look a lot different this year. Many beloved annual events and shows that so many of us look forward to have been cancelled, favorite family traditions interrupted. But there still are enough happening to make the season bright (literally, at some places). Holiday light displays, that you drive or walk through outdoors, are as dazzling as they are great for social distancing. In-person celebrations have extra safety precautions in place. Holiday shows are going virtual, many of them for free. Christmas trees and menorahs are lit through the season, so you can visit at your leisure. Seasonal markets are prepped for safety or bringing the shopping online. ‘Tis not the season we’re used to, but it still can be a wonderful time of the year. This annual KFDC Guide to the Holiday Season in DC will help you plan for it all.
Bull Run Festival of Lights
Where: Bull Run Regional Park | Centreville, VA
When: November 6 – January 10
Admission: $20-30/vehicle (look for discount)
Experience 2.5 miles of colorful holiday light displays. As you drive the festival route, turn off your headlights and just follow the magical glow. It started early this year and online ticketing were added to provide minimal contact. Take advantage of a discount for purchasing online — use promo code WEB20 for $5 off the Monday-Thursday rate.
Winter Walk of Lights
Where: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens | Vienna, VA
When: November 11 – January 3
Admission: $15/adult, $9/ages 2-12 (look for discount)
Bring your family and friends to be dazzled by the magical Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. 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. Put on your walking shoes and bring the family to experience a Northern Virginia festive tradition.
Where: Bluemont Vineyard | Bluemont, VA
When: November 19 – January 3
Enjoy a family friendly outing at the whimsical Winter Wine-derland, located at Bluemont Vineyard’s The Stable event venue, nestled among the vines half way up the mountain. At the exclusive holiday pop-up, families can decorate gingerbread while sipping hot cocoa, roast marshmallows fireside and craft inimitable cork ornaments. Adults can enjoy indulging in a cup of mulled wine or exploring a Wine and Cookie pairing of Christmas cookies, crafted by local Knead It Bakery, paired with their favorite Bluemont Vineyard wines. Check out the website for even more ways for adults to celebrate there!
Ice & Lights
Where: Cameron Run Park | Alexandria, VA
When: November 20 – January 3
Admission: See details below(look for discount)
Glide across the ice at Ice & Lights, The Winter Village at Cameron Run in Alexandria, Virginia. The waterpark is transformed into a winter wonderland with an ice rink, beautifully lit photo ops, music and more. Visit Slice n’ Ice for hot chocolate, coffee and cold beverages, pizza, hot dogs, and delicious donut holes. Admission to the village is $7.95, with 1-hour skating and skate rental is $19.43, ice skating & rental only is $12.19. Ice skating tickets are available online only.
Lights on the Bay
Where: Sandy Point State Park | Annapolis, MD
When: November 20 – January 2
Admission: $20/car (look for discount)
Driving through Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park has become a tradition for many area families for the past decade. The scenic drive along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay features more than 60 spectacular animated and stationary displays illuminating the roadway. The holiday light show is sponsored by the SPCA of Anne Arundel County.
Symphony of Lights
Where: Symphony Woods at Merriweather | Columbia, MD
When: November 25 – January 1
Called a “woodland wonderland,” this beautiful display of more than 100 all new larger-than-life, animated and stationary light creations is a local holiday tradition for many. Cruise along the 1.4-mile route through the Symphony Woods in downtown Columbia and enjoy the twinkling lights as you go. On November 29, the Family Festival welcomes visitors to walk through the lights + enjoy activities for the whole family ($12/guest).
Where: Around DC
When: See dates below
ZooLights Express, powered by Pepco, is bringing the colorful glow of DC’s beloved National Zoo holiday tradition into the community. The 24-foot ZooLights Express truck will hit the road, festively decorated with light displays and featuring “Panda Claws,” and visit one District ward each Friday and Saturday night from 6-8pm:
Friday, 11/27 | Ward 1
Saturday, 11/28 | Ward 2
Friday, 12/4 | Ward 3
Saturday, 12/5 | Ward 4
Friday, 12/11| Ward 5
Saturday, 12/12 | Ward 6
Friday, 12/18 | Ward 7
Saturday, 12/19 | Ward 8
Festival of Lights
Where: Watkins Regional Park | Upper Marlboro, MD
When: November 27 – January 1,
This spectacular holiday drive-through event of more than one million twinkling lights has been dazzling holiday-goers for over 25 years. This is great way to get into the holiday spirit from the comfort of your car — bring a thermos of hot chocolate, put on some holiday music, turn on the seat warmers, and take in the adorably festive illuminated scenes. Purchase tickets in advance online and pay only $8.
Winter Lights Festival
Where: Seneca Creek State Park | Gathersburg, MD
When: November 27 – December 31
Admission: $12-15/car Mon-Thurs, $17-20/car Fri-Sun
The 25th Annual Winter Lights Festival is a glowing 3.5 mile drive through the enchanted setting of Seneca Creek State Park. The route takes you past more than 450 illuminated displays and beautifully lit trees that light up the night. Note that it’s closed on Christmas.
Garden in Lights
Where: Annmarie Sculpture Garden | Solomons, MD
When: November 27 – January 1 (closed 12/1, 7, 8, 24, 25)
Admission: $10-12/person, free/3 & under
This annual holiday light show is getting a makeover in light of COVID-19 guidelines with everything outside to keep everyone safe, so bundle up a magical holiday experience. The grounds of Annmarie are transformed into an outdoor twinkling wonderland that will transport your family to an enchanted world where they will discover glowing “light sculptures” and wondrous light installations. Discover wild animals, wintery wonderlands, musical holiday scenes, deep sea treasures, magical creatures, glowing trees, and more. New this year: An outdoor Holiday Market with shopping, music, fun holiday photo opps, and food and drink.
DC Holiday Lights
Where: Around DC
When: December 1-31
During December, Main Streets throughout the District are joining together to bring DC residents a spectacular holiday experience: DC Holiday Lights! Residents are invited to take a stroll down each of the participating corridors to experience a dazzling array of lights and decor, enjoy holiday promotions, and shop local. Visit the website to see where corridors are located and what to expect at each of them. You can also take a guided tour of the lights with Free Tours By Foot!
TREES & LIGHTINGS
Nightly Holiday Tree Light Show
Where: National Harbor | Oxon Hill, MD
When: November 14 – January 3
Ignite your holiday spirit with the nightly lighting of the 56-foot tree and two million twinkling lights in the National Harbor Waterfront District. The tree light show takes place every evening, every half hour from sundown to 9pm. On weekends — Friday, Saturday, and Sunday — there will be snowfall over the tree during the light show. This year, in order to maintain social distancing, guests will be asked to form a line and follow the directions.
National Christmas Tree & Holiday Trees
Where: President’s Park | The Ellipse, DC
When: December 5-31
Admission: Free, but you must have won tickets via lottery
The lighting of the National Christmas Tree on December 5 will not include a live audience this year, but the illumination and performances can be viewed virtually. After that, the tree will be lit nightly, and visitors are welcome to see it on the Ellipse along with trees representing each state and territory and the District though December.
Capitol Christmas Tree Lighting
Where: West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol | Capitol Hill, DC
When: December 2, 5pm
A great alternative to the National Christmas Tree Lighting. Technically, the lighting will be broadcast live on C-SPAN, but you could view festivities from right across the street by the Reflecting Pool (be sure to social distance). I recommend going on another evening, though, when you can view the tree from a closer vantage point. After the lighting, the tree will be lit every evening for all to enjoy until January 1.
National Menorah Lighting
Where: President’s Park | The National Ellipse, DC
When: December 10, 4pm
Admission: Free, but you must request tickets
This is the Jewish counterpart to the National Christmas Tree Lighting. Every Chanukah, the National Menorah is lit in a ceremony on the Ellipse. Usually, along with the lighting, there is live entertainment, menorah kits and dreidels to take home, and latkes and donuts. This year, details about those festivities are TBD. Tickets are free, but you need to order them in advance through the website starting November 16.
Lighting of the Menorah
Where: The Wharf | Southwest DC
When: December 10-18, 5-6pm
The Wharf is continuing their annual tradition of lighting the menorah in District Square for each night of Hanukkah — join them to celebrate the Festival of Lights! Plan to dine out while you’re there and enjoy an evening stroll along the beautiful waterfront.
SPECIAL EVENTS & ACTIVITIES
Give Thanks Hunt
Where: Mansion on O Street | Dupont Circle, DC
When: Through November 30
Give thanks and learn a bit about Thanksgiving traditions on this heartfelt treasure hunt. Have fun searching for Thanksgiving themed items found only at The Mansion. This includes a self-guided tour of the many themed rooms and secret doors. Bring your own shopping bags — everything is for sale! Read more about this wonderfully unique DC attraction in this KFDC post.
Where: ARTECHOUSE | Southwest DC
When: Through January 3
Admission: $12-17/child, $19-24/adult
ARTECHOUSE, known for its visually stunning digital art, has transformed the gallery into a blue-hued haven intended to evoke calm and peace during a turbulent time. Like all of the exhibitions there, just about all of it is interactive, as the images change with viewers’ motions, encouraging play. Immersing into the depths of the color, even just for a little while, is a dazzling and delightful escape from the bizarre Covid world outside.
The Virtual Enchanted Forest
When: November 21
Admission: Varies by activity
The Junior League of Northern Virginia’s annual Enchanted Forest returns virtually this year. Activities include storytime with Santa, an online auction, call with Santa, cooking classes, arts and crafts, yoga, and more fun for the family.
Where: Hillwood Estate | Northwest DC
When: November 24 – January 10
Admission: Suggested donation $18/adult, $5/child, free/under 6
Hillwood remains a safe way to enjoy the holiday splendor with precautionary measures in place. Enjoy time outside as the gardens reveal another aspect of their ever-changing beauty during the holiday season. The gardens, as revealed in the publication A Garden for All Seasons: Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood, are the inspiration for glamorous Christmas trees and festive décor across the estate. Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 5pm.
The Grinch’s Grotto
Where: Tysons Corner Center | Tysons, VA
When: November 27 – December 31
If taking traditional cheerful holiday photos with the family is exactly what you don’t feel like doing, check out The Grinch’s Grotto, an imaginative take on holiday photo shoots that will give guests a fun way to show off a bit of their grumpiness during what is still the most wonderful time of the year.
Joy Around the World: Virtual Holiday Scavenger Hunt for Kids
Where: Watson Adventures Online
When: November 27, 6pm & November 28, 2pm
Wishing you could find a way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family? Join Watson Adventures on a virtual sleigh ride across the internet! This virtual scavenger hunt takes you to holiday markets and festivals, amazing museums and many scenic places around the world, in search of answers to fun, holiday-related questions. Whether it’s for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or even Boxing Day, it’s a fun game to unite families and friends. Guaranteed to delight any Grinch! For ages 10 and up. Teams of up to six can play together or remotely. Advance booking is required.
Christmas at Mount Vernon
Where: Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, & Gardens
When: November 27 – December 31, 9am – 4pm
Admission: $20/adult, $12/age 6-11, free/5 & under
Christmas past meets Christmas present at George Washington’s estate. Just as the Washingtons celebrated the holiday with family and friends, visitors can start a new tradition of visiting Mount Vernon this holiday season. The holidays are full of delight at George Washington’s estate. It’s open every day of the year, including Christmas Day and New Years. There are also Candlelight Tours on select dates, plus even more seasonal activities — visit the website for details.
Where: Online & Historic Occoquan, VA
When: November 30 – December 13
Enjoy the upcoming festive season with virtual and socially distanced celebrations in historic Occoquan! The Town of Occoquan and the Occoquan Merchants Guild are pleased to present a three-week event including in-person and online activities, including a virtual tree lighting, family fireside night, in-person market, a gingerbread contest, and trivia night. See the website for dates and details.
Where: Leesburg Animal Park | Leesburg, VA
When: December 4/5/6, 11/12/13, 18/19/20, 22/23, 6-9pm
Admission: $10.95 9$12.95 at door)
Celebrate Christmas with the Critters at the Animal Park’s evening holiday event! Activities include photos with Santa Claus, themed arts & crafts, live animal encounters + holiday photos with them, a kids’ indoor play zone, bonfire & marshmallow roasting, pony rides, nativity scene, animal petting & feeding, and thousands of holiday lights. Christmas trees & wreaths will be available for purchase at the Farm Market, too.
Georgetown History & Holiday Lights Tour
Where: Throughout Georgetown DC
When: Starting early December
Admission: Pay what you want
Join Free Tours by Foot for a special evening Historic Georgetown tour that brings you the history through the holiday window displays of Georgetown businesses and restaurants. It’s a unique way to learn about the art and the neighborhood itself. Explore the industrial and some of the oldest residential parts of the neighborhood by the water and along the canal. Note: All sites and homes will be viewed from the street.
Christmas Eve Tours
Where: Mansion on O Street | Dupont Circle, DC
When: December 24
They’ve decked the halls and walls and filled The O with season’s greetings & holiday cheer to create lasting memories for all. On the Breakfast Tour, enjoy a delicious continental breakfast (sweet breads, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit hot coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate) then tour through the themed rooms and search for secret doors. On the Dessert Tour, tour the mansion, then take home an assortment of tortes, cakes, and sweets — includes hot coffee, hot tea, hot apple cider, and hot chocolate (cash bar). See more about this wonderfully unique DC attraction in this KFDC post.
Holiday Train Show
Where: Union Station | Capitol Hill Area, DC
Every year, DC’s grand train station hosts a wonderful Holiday Train Display, on view in the West Hall. Featuring a Norwegian landscape, the displays are intricate and fun to stop by and see if you’re at the station during the holiday season.
First Night Alexandria
Where: Old Town | Alexandria, VA
When: December 31
Admission: $25 ’til 11/30, $30 12/1-30, $35 12/31, free/12 & under
The largest family-focused and alcohol-free New Year’s Eve event in the region is ON for 2020. Organizers are planning a hybrid experience that will include both online and live performances around Alexandria. More details to come soon!
VIRTUAL HOLIDAY SHOWS
Where: Wolf Trap Online
When: December 5 & 19, 4pm (gates open 2:30pm)
Wolf Trap continues their wonderful community tradition of the Holiday Sing-A-Long, this year with a virtual twist! Traditionally, this event combined a festive instrumental performance by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band (USMB) and a sing-a-long of traditional holiday carols led by more than 500 local singers. This year’s event will be presented in a digital format and we hope that you join us from the comfort of your home. These pre-recorded performances by the USMB at The Barns at Wolf Trap, will each begin with a short prelude of festive instrumentals followed by a series of favorite holiday sing-a-longs. Two nights. Two different virtual performances. Tons of holiday cheer!
The Snow Queen
Where: Imagination Stage Online
When: December 12 – February 28
In this adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s famous winter fairy tale, a powerful friendship is put to the test as four narrators bring to life the story of Gerda and Kai, life-long best friends whose relationship is broken by the unfeeling Snow Queen. Can Gerda save Kai before his heart is frozen solid? Imagination abounds in this magical story of courage, wit, and unshakable resilience! Recommended for ages 5+.
Where: The Washington Ballet Online
Experience moments of joy and magic from The Washington Ballet’s charmingly-DC The Nutcracker – virtually! While we can’t be in the theatre to celebrate the joy of The Nutcracker and the holiday season, The Washington Ballet is working on putting together a delightful virtual Nutcracker experience with behind-the-scenes content, interviews, special performances, and more.
A Season of Reveling
Where: Washington Revels Online
When: Through December 20
This December’s Christmas Revels will not take place on a stage… but Washington Revels will celebrate nonetheless! They’ve been hard at work imagining the possibilities of a virtual Christmas Revels. Much more information is coming soon! Right now we are excited to share that we will not only present a virtual Winter Solstice Revels, but also we are also planning an ongoing “suite” of Fall programming — “A Season of Reveling.“
Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Step Show
Where: Step Afrika! Online
When: December 16, 7:30pm
As the world’s first holiday show highlighting the African American tradition of stepping, the Magical Musical Holiday Step Show is a feast for the eyes and ears. Fabulous and furry friends from the Arctic Kingdom – Popper the Penguin along with polar bear twins, Pinky and Polo-ensure a fun and exciting experience for the entire family! Recognizing the challenges faced by so many families due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Step Afrika! is offering this year’s holiday show free of charge. Tune in as the celebrated performers of Step Afrika! spread holiday cheer to audiences all over the world. Register in advance.
ASO Live! Holiday Classics
Where: Strathmore Online
When: December 18
The holidays are a time spent with friends and family, both near and far, celebrating togetherness. Enjoy a concert that will warm your heart on a cold winter’s night with holiday favorites and classical others. This concert is sure to warm your heart on a cold winter’s night. selections by Arcangelo Corelli, Johann Strauss, Scott Joplin, and Leroy Anderson, among others. This concert is sure to warm your heart on a cold winter’s night.
The Nutcracker Storybook
Where: Maryland Youth Ballet Online
When: Starting December 19
Admission: $10 to rent, $20 to purchase
Given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maryland Youth Ballet is excited to announce a reimagined production of its traditional holiday favorite, The Nutcracker, with a NEW video production. The Nutcracker Storybook follows the storyline of the timeless holiday classic with “Uncle Drosselmeyer” narrating and guiding viewers through a storybook come to life. The performance will be pre-recorded with a broadcast premiere on December 19.
Coyaba Dance Theater: In Spirit of Kwanzaa
Where: Dance Place Online
When: December 29, 6:30pm
Join Coyaba Dance Theater West African Dance Company in celebrating 15 years! This high-energy virtual presentation is based on the 7 Principles (Nguzo Saba) of Kwanzaa: Umoja, Kuchjichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani. Kwanzaa is an African-American holiday from December 26 – January 1. In gathering, we commemorate and recommit to our families, community economics, and Faith. This show will lift your spirits and warm your hearts.
Downtown Holiday Market
Where: 8th & F Streets NW | Penn Quarter, DC
When: November 20 – December 23, 12-8pm
This one, to me, is the holiday market in DC. It’s not even so much about the merchandise for sale (though there’s always a great variety of gift items — I never leave empty handed). There’s something about the usually bustling block in the middle of Penn Quarter transforming into an open air market for a few weeks that is so charming and kind of magical, making our big city feel like a small town. Treats and coffee drinks are available for purchase, too. KFDC Tip: Plan to visit the National Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum that are literally right next to the market after you’ve done your shopping. Reserve timed-entry tickets here.
Victura Park Winter Holiday Market
Where: The REACH | Kennedy Center, DC
When: November 27 – December 20
This winter, Victura Park, the pop-up wine car on the grounds of The REACH at the Kennedy Center, transforms into a festive Holiday Market! The outdoor market will feature an amazing line up of local artists, craftspersons, and other specialized vendors, including the Kennedy Center Gift Shop pop-up shop. Support small businesses by purchasing gifts, prepackaged treats, and one-of-a-kind artworks for the perfect holiday celebration! Sip on seasonal classics such as spiked cider and hot cocoa or choose from the signature menu of beer and wine, light snacks, and delicious food hot from the grill. Holiday hours will be Friday 4 – 8pm, Saturday 12– 9pm, & Sunday 12 – 8pm.
Where: Eastern Market | Capitol Hill, DC
When: Year-round Saturdays & Sundays
The outdoor flea market at the centerpiece of the Capitol Hill community is practically a year-round weekend institution for locals. And during the holiday season, it’s a go-to for shoppers seeking unique gifts along with a fun outing. Over 100 vendors are there, selling everything from original artwork to fun T-shirts, to handmade jewelry and accessories, to home décor to custom-made and used furniture – and much, much more. If you’re cooking up a holiday meal, you can get fresh produce from farmers’ stalls outside and butchered meats, fancy cheeses, baked goods, pasta, fresh produce, and more inside the actual Eastern Market. Even more, there is often live music courtesy of buskers around the area, and if the kids want some play time afterwards, you can hit one of several parks or playgrounds in the neighborhood (Lincoln Park, at 11th and East Capitol, is the largest and most popular among them).
Gifts That Give Hope Gift Fair
When: November 23 – December 18
This Fair puts a new spin on gift-giving. The concept is simple: Make a donation to a locally-based nonprofits, personalize a Gifts That Give Hope greeting card for a loved one, and give that act of kindness as a gift. Thanks to generous shoppers, Gifts That Give Hope is supporting acts of kindness around our community and the world this holiday season.
Holiday Freedom Market
When: November 22 – December 5
Looking for ethically and sustainably made holiday gifts this season? Visit the Holiday Freedom Market, an online pop-up launching on Saturday and running for two weeks. They’ve has partnered with brands that employ fair trade and sustainable practices (including local brand Hon’s Honey), many of which support anti-human trafficking initiatives or employ at-risk individuals or survivors of exploitation, to bring you incredible gifts options that you can shop with a clear conscience. COVID-19 has made things exponentially worse for those who are vulnerable or currently being trafficked. All net proceeds will go to Justice Ventures International, an organization that fights human trafficking. Local pick-up options will be available. Note that the website will not go-live until this Saturday, but you can catch a sneak-peek by visiting their Instagram and Facebook pages.
First Sunday Arts Festival Holiday Edition
Where: Calvert & West Streets | Annapolis, MD
When: December 6, 11am – 4pm
Shop an array of items in person from 50 artists in downtown Annapolis (or shop online from over 200 vendors). Booths will be spread out to make social distancing easier. They ask that masks are worn when inside a vendors tent and that only one household enter a tent at a time. Bring hand sanitizer for convenient hand washing.
When: Throughout the season
Admission: What you spend!
Most annual markets have moved online due to Covid-19, which might even make shopping easier. So many of them offer unique finds that make for perfect holiday gifts, plus they often support wonderful organizations, places, and people in the community. Here are some to browse from the comfort of your couch:
Smithsonian Holiday Market
Strathmore Shop Around
Heurich House Christkindlmarkt
Sideshow at the American Visionary Art Museum
Waldorf School Fall Bazaar
Know of a great DC holiday event that you don’t see here? Let us know in the comments below!