Several people have contacted me over the past week about Santa’s Workshop, the charming little cabin that’s part of the holiday attractions on the Ellipse, where (historically) every year at Christmastime, you can see Santa’s operations in action and take a photo with him. A visit to the workshop is a seasonal favorite for many, including our family — we always make a point to go every year.
However, it seems that this year Santa is…busy. Word has it that he’s not spending time at his workshop. And, apparently, the elves haven’t been able to keep the place running much either.
“So we went today and it was closed. A park ranger came and told us that funding was gone this year so no Santa at all, and volunteers were responsible for opening up the workshop, and they weren’t showing up often.”
Hopefully, Santa’s Workshop will be open this final weekend before Christmas — the website says hours will be 12:30-9:30pm both days — but I just wanted to give a heads-up that there’s a chance it might not be, so you can manage expectations of children excited to see Santa in his element.
An outing to the Ellipse wouldn’t be a waste of time — there’s still the National Christmas Tree and National Menorah to see, plus a great model train and other holiday displays. And it’s close to other attractions on the National Mall and downtown, so you can tack on some other fun. If you go, post a comment here and let the rest of us know about your experience.
The Chinese food and movie combo on Christmas might sound like a cliché, but that was my reality when I was growing up. Back then, nothing was open on Christmas…except for the theaters and Chinese food restaurants. So, if you were Jewish and didn’t celebrate the holiday, that’s what you did.
Now that Christmas is part of my holiday repertoire thanks to my husband, I’m a little busier come Christmas Day. (What am I saying? Christmas brings a whole new meaning to busy for weeks leading up to it, especially with kids in the mix.) But even with my adopted holiday traditions to enjoy every December 25, I still like to get out for some activity, because that’s what the child in me knows.
These days, the world doesn’t shut down for the holiday. Along with movie theaters and Chinese food restaurants, plenty of other venues keep some hours on Christmas Day. In the vein of DC-area family fun, the Botanic Garden, Mount Vernon, parks hosting light displays, and the ice rink in Silver Spring (for a Chanukah event) will be welcoming visitors, though it’s the one day of the year that the Smithsonian is closed. And just about everything is open on Christmas Eve.
So, if your family is in town this weekend and looking for fun to complement your celebration or seeking activities instead of one, you’ve got some options. Including plenty of children’s movies in the theaters to precede or follow a good Chinese food meal. Merry Weekend! And a very happy holiday to all!
Santa Claus is Coming to Town… On Water Skis – On Saturday at National Harbor, you can catch Santa water skiing along the Potomac. And along for the ride will be knee boarding reindeer, the flying elves, the jet-skiing Grinch, and Frosty the Snowman in a dinghy! Now, that’s sure to be a spectacle that will get kids buzzing. While you’re at the Harbor, be sure to check out the rest of the Christmas on the Potomac holiday extravaganza.
Closing Up Shop for the Season – Saturday is your last chance to get a glimpse of Santa’s operations at his workshop on the Ellipse. The cute, little cottage where guests can pass through and view the charming facilities, then get a photo with St. Nick himself will be open for the last time this season on Christmas Eve from 11am – 3pm. It’s also open today and tonight, 12:30 – 4:30pm and 5:30-9:30pm. All of the other exhibits on the Ellipse – the National Christmas Tree, the National Menorah, and other holiday display – will be there to visit through the holidays.
Let There Be Light Shows – After a big holiday meal, take a drive through one of the many light displays in the area. You can find details for all of them in this post about holiday events, but there are a few things to note this weekend: ZooLights is closed all weekend, Watkins’ Festival of Lights is open and FREE on Christmas evening, Symphony of Lights is open, Brookside Garden of Lights is closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas evenings, and the Winter Lights Festival at Seneca Creek is closed on Christmas.
Chanukah Wonderland – Head to the Civic Center in Downtown Silver Spring for a day full of activities that celebrate the eight crazy nights. There will be Chanukah jewelry, cookie decorating, a coloring station, dreidel making, and more from 10am – 5pm. You can also enjoy Chanukah on Ice with skating, Jewish music, latkes from 3:30-5pm. Admission is $10.
Go Nuts – The Warner Theatre curtains close on The Nutcracker after Saturday. You can catch the final performances today at 2pm and 7pm or tomorrow at 11am and 3pm. Tickets range from $40-110, but you can check Goldstar for discount. Read the KFDC review of the Washington Ballet’s version of the holiday classic.
Season’s Greenings –Despite its location next to all of the museums, the U.S. Botanic Garden is not part of the Smithsonian (the Architect of the Capitol serves as the Acting Director). Hence, it’s not closed along with the rest of the galleries on the National Mall, and will welcome visitors all weekend. See the lovely, whimsical train display and replicas of DC landmarks constructed entirely of natural materials that make up the holiday exhibit, along with the permanent collections. Open 9am – 5pm, admission is free.
Portrait Story Days and Discovery Kits – On Saturday from 2-5pm, guests of all ages can drop at the National Portrait Gallery to hear a tale about Gertrude Stein and do an art project. For a fun DIY adventure at the Gallery, Portrait Discovery Kits are also available on Saturday from 1-4pm. They include “Seek and Find” cards, “Portrait Detective” and “Historian Guides,” and a “Compare and Contrast” activity using a doll. Visitors can check out kits at the education center, room E151, on the first floor.
Christmas at Mount Vernon – Celebrate the holiday at George Washington’s homestead, which will be open on both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The special holiday exhibit includes 12 Christmas trees, a gingerbread Mount Vernon, historical chocolate-making demonstrations (and tastings!), and more. Guests will also have the chance to tour the rarely opened third floor of the mansion to learn how the first First Family celebrated Christmas. And outside, Alladin the camel will be on view to recall the camel ol’ George himself bought for 18 shillings in 1787 for his guests’ enjoyment at Christmas. Admission is $15/adults, $7/ages 6-11, free for ages 5 and under.
The Great Outdoors – Dreams for a white Christmas may be dashed, but I, for one, won’t be complaining about the weather this weekend. Lots of sunshine and relatively warm temps will give you some more options for things to do. And this post about the DC area’s best places to spend a nice day outdoors with the kiddos has loads of ideas.
Enjoying last weekend's superb weather at the Capitol Reflecting Pool, post-Botanic Garden visit.
Holiday activities dominate this weekend round-up, but there are a few non-seasonal recommendations for all the Scrooge types, too. See a family-friendly film about Andy Warhol, visit Santa in his workshop, jam to folk music for children, sing along to holiday songs. That’s just a small sample of all there is to do; read on for the rest. Happy Weekend!
‘Tis the Season – The holiday season is in full swing, and DC is chock full of fun ways to celebrate it. A few special events are mentioned below, and this post listing DC’s best has even more recommendations. Think holiday train displays; festivities at the Botanic Garden, and at the National Harbor; light shows; a boat parade; and even more.
Holidays on Stage – Enjoy the ultimate holiday classic The Nutcracker performed by the Washington Ballet at Warner Theatre or catch a tot-friendly version at The Puppet Co. Join the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future as they lead Scrooge on A Christmas Carol journey at Ford’s Theatre. Get details on these live shows and others at local theaters this season in this post about holiday entertainment.
Santa on the Ellipse – The National Christmas Tree was illuminated by the First Family last night, so festivities at President’s Park have officially begun. See the tree, a model train zipping around it, the Yule Log, and holiday displays representing all 50 states. But the biggest thrill for kids, by far, will be Santa’s Workshop, which is an actual little cottage on the Ellipse grounds, just down the path from the tree. There, guests can check out St. Nick’s “operations,” complete with a Naughty & Nice meter, letters to Santa stacked up on desks and posted on walls, sketches of toys, and a conveyor belt loaded with presents to be distributed to kids around the world. This is all there for kids to peep as they wait in line to meet Santa himself and sit on his lap for a photo op. It’s open this Saturday and Sunday from 12:30-4:30pm then again from 5:30-9:30pm. Beware that the line can get long — I’ve heard of waits up to 40 minutes — so plan accordingly. Read about our experience there last year.
Bethesda Winter Wonderland – Celebrate the holiday season in downtown Bethesda with a variety of free performances, a live ice sculpting presentation in Bethesda’s Veterans Park, and a visit from Santa Claus. Festivities kick off this evening with a concert at 8pm, and continue tomorrow with ice sculptures in Veterans Park (located at the corner of Woodmont & Norfolk Avenues) from 1-2pm, then a student concert and visit from Santa from 2-4pm. Admission is free.
Scribble, Art, Pop! – Kids can explore art through filmat The National Gallery of Art’s monthly film program. This weekend they’ll present a series of animated shorts that celebrate the qualities that make artists. Guests can get a glimpse into the life and art of Andy Warhol in the fun and gentle film Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Andy Warhol, a family-friendly biography of Warhol and an introduction to pop art, along with a few other animated shorts about art, all of the kid-friendly variety. Sessions are at 10:30am on Saturday and 11:30am on Sunday in the East Building Auditorium. The program is free, and seating is offered on a first-come, first-seated basis. Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Renwick Holiday Festival – Celebrate the holiday season in presidential fashion at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery. Go on a scavenger hunt through the exhibit Something of Splendor: Decorative Arts from the White House, where you might spot Grace Coolidge, Dolly Madison, and Teddy Roosevelt; enjoy a family day filled with music, crafts, and activities inspired by the exhibition. Create your own presidential china patterns, make holiday ornaments, and warm up with some hot apple cider. The event takes place on Saturday from 11am – 2pm. Admission is free.
Folk Jam for Kids – Boston roots musician and family entertainer Alastair Moock will perform an all–ages concert at Jammin’ Java on Saturday at 10:30am. The concert celebrates the release of Moock’s new CD entitled “These Are My Friends,” which just won a 2011 NAPPA Gold Award. The show is part of the venue’s ongoing family concert series. Tickets are $10 and available online or at the box office.
DIY Holiday Cards – Kids can exercise their creativity and get into the holiday spirit at a special Holiday Card Workshop hosted by the National Postal Museum on Saturday, from 12 – 3:30pm. Artist Thalia Doukas will provide stamp-centric inspiration and mailable ornaments that guests can use as they create two holiday cards. Be sure to make time before or after to explore the museum, which is full of interesting exhibits, many of them interactive.
Holidays Around the World: Kwanzaa – This holiday season, the National Children’s Museum Launch Zone is celebrating winter holidays around the world. On Saturday from 11am – 4pm, drop in to learn all about Kwanzaa, a holiday focusing on the values of African culture. Kids can make family tree place mats and mishumaa, traditional Kwanzaa candles. Admission is free. The Museum is located at National Harbor, so you can combine it with a visit to the Gaylord National Resort for Christmas on the Potomac.
Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-A-Long – Belt out the season’s most popular tunes at Wolf Trap’s annual gathering on Sunday at 4pm. Along with the opportunity to sing Christmas Carols and Hannukah songs along with choir and vocal groups from the metropolitan Washington area, you can enjoy a performance by the United States Marine Band. While admission to the event if free, Wolf Trap will be participating in Toys for Tots by collecting new, unwrapped toys at the entrance to the Filene Center before the Sing-A-Long. Donations are strictly voluntary and not a requirement. Parking is also free, though limited, so plan on arriving early.
Annual Holiday Sing at the Atlas – The annual free Holiday Concert at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, in collaboration with Capital City Symphony the Congressional Chorus, and the American Youth Chorus, is an H Street holiday tradition. Shows take place on Sunday at 4pm & 7pm. I checked the status of tickets on the website, and while it’s sold out, a note says to “Please come the day of the performance to join the waiting list. In years past, everybody has got in.” Hey, it’s worth a try. And if you don’t get in, you can grab a bite at one of the many eateries along the corridor or head up the street to Union Station to check out the Holiday Train Show.
DC doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the holidays. There are options galore for celebrating the season, many of them annual events that quickly become family traditions. See model trains wind through miniature Christmas villages, drive through dazzling light displays in the woods, have a cool experience (literally) with interactive sculptures in ice. Some of the fun begins as soon as this weekend, so bookmark this page (along with this one featuring live entertainment) and start making some holiday plans.
Season’s Greenings Where:U.S. Botanic Garden When: November 24 – January 2 Admission: FREE
If my blog stats are any indication, this is easily DC’s most popular holiday attraction; searches for the Botanic Garden’s seasonal exhibit exceeded all other topics last year. And I can’t say I’m surprised. Season’s Greenings is an annual delight for all ages. The conservatory exhibit features Washington landmarks constructed from plant materials and one of the city’s largest Christmas trees. But the highlight, hands-down, is the garden railway, which never fails to impress and enchant with intricate, imaginative designs. This year, try to guess “Who Lives Here” in the whimsical animal houses along the mini-train route. For even more holiday magic at the garden, there are concerts most Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when the USBG stays open until 8pm. For more on the seasonal favorite, read this KFDC review from last year.
Holiday on the Ellipse Where: The Ellipse, President’s Park When: December 1 – January 1 Admission: FREE
This should have a permanent spot on everyone’s DC holiday repertoire. The National Christmas Tree, the National Menorah, Santa’s Workshop, plus trains and displays representing all 50 states are a must-see during the season. Kids will especially love visiting Santa in his adorable little cottage for a peek at his operations and a photo op on his lap (read about our experience there last year), which is open at select times, usually through Christmas Eve. And the rest of it lit up at night with the White House and Washington Monument glowing in the distance makes for a dazzling holiday scene.
Trains loop the National Christmas Tree
Christmas on the Potomac Where: National Harbor When: November 18 – January 8 Admission: FREE, though some activities cost extra
National Harbor goes all out during the holidays. ICE! might be the big attraction, but there’s way more to do there to warrant a visit without the frozen entertainment. Most of it takes place in the Gaylord National Resort, which is transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with a spectacular glass Christmas tree, nightly tree lightings starting November 25, the Potomac Express train offering rides for guests, photo ops with Santa, indoor snowfalls, fountain shows, and more. (Read about our experience there last year.) Afterward, shop the holiday market on American Way (open Saturdays & Sundays November 26 – December 18 or grab a bite at one of the Harbor’s many restaurants.
ICE! Where: National Harbor When: November 18 – January 8 Admission: Mon-Thurs $25/adult, $20/kids; Fri-Sun $35/adults, $25/kids; 3 and under are free.Get 50% off with this LivingSocial deal while it lasts!
Technically, this is part of Christmas on the Potomac, but it’s supposedly such a huge spectacle in itself, that it deserves its own write-up. And since I have yet to experience it myself (as explained in this post last year), here’s the description from the website: “Gaylord National’s popular ICE! winter holiday attraction returns with an all-new, hilarious theme: ICE! featuring DreamWorks’ Merry Madagascar. From Nov. 18 to Jan. 8, the DreamWorks Animation holiday TV special will be brought to life in an interactive world of colorful ice sculptures carved entirely from TWO-MILLION pounds of ice. Relive the story as you stroll through this amazing attraction featuring scenes such as how Santa and his reindeer crash-landed onto the island of Madagascar, and why Alex, Marty, Gloria, Melman and the wacky penguins must figure out how to save Christmas by delivering all the presents themselves. Even the mischievous lemur King Julien learns the true meaning of the holiday and manages to get himself off the “naughty list” once and for all. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, and there are timed entries are every half-hour. Hours vary by day, so be sure to check the schedule when you plan to go.
National Menorah Lighting Where: The National Ellipse When: December 20, 4pm Admission: FREE, but you must request tickets
As I noted in this post from last year, it’s tough to find family Chanukah events open to the public in the area. But they do happen, and this is a nice one. Along with the lighting, there will be entertainment by the U.S. Marine Band as well as Dreidelman and the Macabees. If you don’t mind waiting in line afterward, stay for latkes and donuts. Tickets are free, but you need to request them in advance. Go here to get yours.
Come light the National Menorah
Christmas at Mount Vernon Where: Mount Vernon Estate, Museum, & Gardens When: November 25 – January 6 Admission: $15/adults, $7/ages 6-11, free for ages 5 and under
The special daytime holiday program at George Washington’s homestead includes 12 Christmas trees, a gingerbread Mount Vernon, historical chocolate-making demonstrations (and tastings!), and more. Guests will also have the chance to tour the rarely opened third floor of the mansion to learn how the first First Family celebrated Christmas. And outside, Alladin the camel will be on view to recall the camel ol’ George himself bought for 18 shillings in 1787 for his guests’ enjoyment at Christmas.
Holiday Train Show Where: Union Station When: November 22 – January 2 Admission: FREE
The Holiday Train Show located in the Main & West Halls features a new model train display for the first time at Union Station in 15 years. MTH Electric Trains, a leading model train manufacturer in Columbia, Md., is providing the locomotive exhibit that consists of model trains from every railroad era and includes trains from Europe and other parts of the world.
Holiday Festival of Trains & Toys Where: B&O Railroad Museum When: November 25 – December 31 Admission: $14/adults, $12/seniors (60+), $8/ages 2-12 free for B&O members
This is a venue dedicated to locomotives, so you know the holiday model train exhibit is going to be special. So much so, it changes throughout its run featuring new displays from various Model Railroad Exhibitors every few days. The exhibit opens the day after Thanksgiving with the arrival of Santa in the Roundhouse at 10:30am. On weekends through December 18, guests can enjoy train rides with Santa and Frosty the Snowman along with crafts and choral performances. Train rides are $2/adults, $1/children, free for B&O Members.
Holly Trolley Fest Where: National Capitol Trolley Museum When: November 26 – December 18, Saturdays & Sundays only Admission: $7/adults, $5/ages 2-17 (includes unlimited rides)
Guests can ride with Santa on the street cars and enjoy the model garden railway and holiday village inside the museum. Of course the est of the museum, offering a glimpse into the history of street cars, including a Hall displaying different cars from around the region and Europe. Visit the website for directions museum.
ZooLights Where: National Zoo When: November 25 – December 11, December 16 – January 1 Admission: FREE
Every year, thousands of environmentally-friendly light and animal exhibits transform the Zoo into a holiday wonderland. The highlights are dozens of animal light displays, and this year there will be an “iceless” skating rink (made of an eco-friendly synthetic skating surface) in the Picnic Pavilion Guests can also enjoy entertainment and a special train ride for children, special talks by animal keepers, Zoo-themed model trains displays, and the gingerbread habitat contest entries on display in the auditorium. The Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank, and Kids’ Farm will be open every night. Skating and train rides cost extra: $5 to skate, $2 skate rentals, $3 train rides.
Watkins' drive-thru light show
Festival of Lights Where: Watkins Regional Park When: November 25 – January 1, 5-9:30pm nightly Admission: $5/car, FREE on December 25
This spectacular holiday drive-through event of more than one million twinkling lights has been dazzling holiday-goers for 25 years. This is great way to get into the holiday spirit from the comfort of your car – pop some holiday music into the CD player, turn on the seat warmers, and take in the illuminated scenes. New festival features include Santa flying a helicopter and driving a fire truck.
Symphony of Lights Where: Symphony Woods, Merriweather Post Pavilion When: November 21 – January 1, 6-10pm nightly Admission: $20/car
Called a “woodland wonderland,” this beautiful display of more than 70 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.
Garden of Lights Where: Brookside Gardens When: November 25 – January 8, with noted exceptions Admission: $20/car Mon-Thurs, $25/car Fri-Sun
Visualize close to one million twinkling colorful lights shaped in imaginative displays throughout the gardens. Enjoy the four seasons illuminated as giant summer sunflowers, autumn leaves, winter snowflakes, spring flowers, rain showers, and more. Walk along the easily accessible paths and you’ll see what sets this light show apart from others; it’s the hundreds of wrapped trees and shrubs, beautifully lighted gazebos, cascading fountains, and the individually formed displays in the shapes of blooming flowers and wild animals. Look for moving displays such as a flock of geese, or an 11-foot giraffe covered with 9,000 lights. Open weekdays 5:30-9pm, with last car admitted at 8:30pm, weekends (Friday – Sunday) 5:30-10pm, with last car admitted at 9:30pm. Closed December 24 & 25, and January 2-5.
Alexandria Boat Parade of Lights Where: Alexandria City Marina When: December 3 Admission: FREE
Alexandria’s harbor lights up when more than 50 illuminated boats cruise the Washington Channel to the historic waterfront. Pre-parade festivities at the Alexandria City Marina begin at 4pm with Santa arriving by fireboat at 4:15pm. The boat parade begins at 6pm. The Marina is located at Cameron Street in Old Town.
Winter Lights Festival Where: Seneca Creeek State Park When: November 25-26, then nightly December 2-31 Admission: $12/car Tues-Thurs, $15/car Fri- Sun
The 16th Annual Winter Lights Festival will feature more than 380 illuminated vignettes and 65 animated displays in a 3.5 mile drive through beautiful Seneca Creek State Park. Theme areas include Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village, North Pole, Toyland, and Penguin Cove. Proceeds Benefit Local Charities.
Holiday Trains and Planes Where: College Park Aviation Museum When: December 17 – December 23 Admission: 4/adults, $3/seniors, $2/ages 2-18, under 2 are free
During the holiday season the College Park Aviation Museum gets ready for the festivities as miniature trains, villages, tunnels, and depots spark the imagination and bring history to life. The National Capital Trackers bring a fascinating and constantly moving display of model railroads.
Take your pick of The Nutcracker productions, see Ebenezer Scrooge on stage, rock out or sing along to holiday tunes, discover celebrations around the world — there are shows to suit all theater preferences, ages, and wallets. See this recent KFDC post has details on live entertainment to be enjoyed this holiday season.
The tree is decorated, the presents are wrapped, the cookies are baked, the menu is planned, and you’re ready to kick back and enjoy the holiday… right?? Okay, I know today is probably one of the busiest for many as you get ready for festivities tonight or the big day tomorrow. But if you’ve got some time to get out with the kids, there are plenty of activities, both holiday-themed and just plain ol’ fun, to enjoy this weekend. There are even a few happening tomorrow, if you’re looking for Christmas Day recreation. However you spend your holiday, may it be a merry one. Happy Holidays!
Santa on the Ellipse – Today is the last opportunity to get a glimpse of Santa’s operations and a free photo op. Santa’s Workshop, part of Holiday on the Ellipse is open from 11am – 3pm, then it will close for the season. However, the rest of the Ellipse exhibits – the National Christmas tree, model train, Yule Log, and more — will remain on display through January 1. Read more about it in the post from yesterday.
Bright Lights – Many of the area light displays that help make the holidays dazzle will be open for viewing on Christmas evening. Pack the family in the car for a drive-thru light show or layer up and visit a walk-thru twinkling exhibit. For a list of light displays, see this post.
Chugga Chugga Christmas – No, I’m not suggesting a holiday kegger (but I’m not NOT suggesting it either), rather this is a reminder about all the great model train exhibits around town, many of which will be open al weekend. To find our where you can see them, check out this post.
Museum Time – Most Smithsonian museums are open today, but closed for Christmas. And many will have special extended hours when they reopen after the holiday. Visit the Smithsonian website to view schedules.
Kwanzaa Celebration – Treat your family and friends to a Kwanzaa Celebration. Hosted by Juanita “Busy Bee” Britton and EZ Street, this inspirational holiday event will honor local community leaders, activists and youth mentors. Featuring performances by The Black Notes, Farafina Kan, Maimouna Yousseff, Gods’illa and the Ballou High School Choir. Tickets are $20/general admission, $10/youth, $15/seniors and are available through Ticketmaster or at the Lincoln Theatre box office.