Everyone knows that Washington DC is the center of politics and governance, but I can’t think of a better place to celebrate the upcoming holiday season. For new arrivals to the area, you are in for a treat – with a myriad of activities to keep everything merry and bright for you and your family. Here’s a few of our family favorites and feel free to add to the list with your own DC area holiday finds. (For more on the big guy on skis, see #7.)
1. Season’s Greenings!: If you want to escape the cold but still be surrounded by holiday cheer, head to the US Botanical Gardens this month. This tropical greenhouse pays tribute to the season with displays of thousands of poinsettias in every color and its own unique miniature railroad. It travels through towns and past familiar DC landmarks made completely of natural materials.
2. Kristkindl Markt, DC Style: If you were ever stationed in Germany, you’ll agree the Weihnachtsmarkts were the best part of the holiday season. You can get the same feeling at the Eastern Market in DC on December Saturdays. Hop on the Metro’s Orange line to make the trip even easier. You’ll find lots of vendors selling unique gift ideas, holiday decorations and greenery and antiques. There are lots of cafes around the market where you can go for a warming coffee or hot chocolate. All that's missing is the gluhwein.
3. “A Christmas Story” Holiday: Most families who make up the Military District of Washington live outside the beltway. It is so much more convenient to visit the local mall or shopping centers during this busy month. But take a day to head in to DC to have ‘A Christmas Story’ experience. See the window displays at Macys and other stores in the Metro Center area. Walk over to Chinatown and treat yourself to Peking Duck at any of the Oriental restaurants lining the blocks.
4. The National Christmas Tree: You can’t live in the area without making a pilgrimage to see the National tree at least once during the holiday season. If you were lucky enough to get a ticket through the National Park Service lottery for the official lighting on Dec. 6, how exciting. But if not, you have the whole season to visit. My family loves seeing the decorations on the state trees circling the National tree, making sure to stop at each tree where we’ve lived. We’ve also started a tradition of taking a thermos of hot chocolate, cups and some cookies with us, and finding a place to sit and have a treat. Pershing Park is a great place because you can see the White House, the Tree and the gorgeous Willard Hotel.
5. The Capitol Christmas Tree: Not to be outdone, the Capitol Building features a huge tree of its own. The lights officially go on Dec. 4 and will feature hand-made ornaments by children in Colorado celebrating the theme, “The Great Outdoors.” If it’s been really cold before you visit, you might even be able to so some ‘skating’ on the pool by Grant’s Statue. It’s a favorite of my kids.
6. Lace up for fun: Speaking of skating, did you know that there is a skating rink in the Sculpture Garden next to the National Gallery of Art? Two hour skating sessions cost $8.00 for adults and $7 for seniors, students (with school id) and children 12 and under. Skate rentals are $3. The rink is open Mon–Thurs, 10am–9pm; Fri-Sat, 10am–11pm; Sunday, 11am–9pm. The rink will close at 5pm Christmas Eve and is closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1.
7. Water Skiing Santa: We didn’t believe it, the first time we heard about this DC holiday tradition, but it’s a great one if you are looking for a totally new holiday experience. This unusual annual event features a water-skiing Santa, flying elves, the Jet-skiing Grinch, and Frosty the Snowman performing on the Potomac River. The best place to view Santa’s arrival is at the National Harbor, at 1 pm on Christmas Eve. You’ll also be able to enjoy the other holiday activities at the Harbor.
8. The National Cathedral: There’s no better time to visit this architectural treasure than during the holidays. You’ll see hundreds of crèches from around the world and beautiful floral displays. Time your visit right and you may hear an organ performance. It’s a great way to put a little peace and tranquility in your life during this busy time of year.
9. Bull Run Festival of Lights: Growing up, my dad would take the family on drives to see the neighborhood lights, a tradition I kept with my family. Of course most of the time we would just walk around post to see the lights on all the quarters. If you really want to impress the family, head over to Bull Run Regional Park for its Festival of Lights display. There are more than 40,000 animated lights set to music. The park is located just off of Interstate 66 in Centreville, on Rt. 29 (Lee Highway), just 3 miles from historic Manassas Battlefield Park.
10. ZooLights!: Even the National Zoo gets in the holiday spirit with its own light display. There is a fee for parking during this special seasonal event, but there are lots of fun family activities. You can learn more at http://nationalzoo.si.edu/ActivitiesAndEvents/Celebrations/zoolights/
***The National Zoo is also showing appreciation for US military men and women by hosting a ZooLights Military Night on Saturday, Dec. 8, in partnership with the United Service Organizations. Show your valid military ID to receive member-rate parking of $9 and 10% off all gift shop items. Military can also enjoy free hot chocolate, cookies, stickers for kids, a special photo op with Panda Claws at the USO Mobile station, and more!***
11. Nature on Display: We have another family tradition of taking a New Year’s Eve walk. We’ve had to do some chilly hiking over the years, but have created some great memories as we explored different winter wonderlands. In DC, we love heading to Great Falls National Park. There is something so awe-inspiring about watching the water of the Potomac power over the falls. It’s amazing to watch and think that this is the same water that sedately flows past Georgetown and Alexandria. Why not think about taking a family hike of your own this season.
12. Strike up the band! From ‘Pershing’s Own’ to Airmen of Note, you could spend more than 12 days just enjoying the free holiday concerts of our service bands. (Information provided by the JBM-HH News for Retirees)
Air Force Band Local Performances in December: See schedule at: http://www.usafband.af.mil/events/index.asp
Dec. 7, 10:30am; Dec. 8, 3 and 7:30pm; Dec. 9, 3 pm: Air Force Band Holiday Concert, at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D Street, NW, DC. Featuring the concert band and Singing Sergeants. Reservations required, available on web site.
Army Band Local Performances in December: Schedule at: http://www.usarmyband.com/event-calendar.html
Dec. 4, 7:30pm, "Pershing's Own" Chamber Music Series, Brucker Hall, Brahms Horn Trio
Dec. 13, 7:30pm, A Stan Kenton Christmas at Brucker Hall, with the U.S. Army All-Brass Big Band
Dec. 16, 3pm, Duke Ellington Nutcracker and Big-Band Holiday Favorites, with the US Army Blues, at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington
Dec. 17, 6pm, A Stan Kenton Christmas on the Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, with the U.S. Army All-Brass Big Band
Dec. 22, 6pm, Army Chorus Live on the Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, with the US Army Chorus
Army Field Band Local Performances in December: For more information: http://www.armyfieldband.com/pages/schedule/sched.html
Sound the Bells! A Holiday Celebration, with the Concert Band and Soldiers' Chorus and Jazz Ambassadors: Dec. 5, 7pm, James Monroe High School Auditorium, 2300 Washington Avenue, Fredericksburg, VA; Dec. 6, 7pm, Meade High School Auditorium 1100 Clark Road, Fort Meade, MD, tickets at http://armyfieldband.ticketleap.com/meade12/; Dec. 13, 7:30pm, Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, 15200 Annapolis Road, Bowie, MD, tickets at: http://armyfieldband.ticketleap.com/bowie/
Local Marine Band Performances Scheduled for December: The Marine Band schedule is at: http://www.marineband.usmc.mil/calendar/index.asp?date
Dec. 16, 2pm, Marine Brass Ensemble at the John Philip Sousa Band Hall, Marine Barracks Annex, 7th and L Streets, SE, Washington, DC, doors close at capacity
Navy Band Local Performances in December: Info at: http://www.navyband.navy.mil/event_calendar_december.shtml
Dec. 7, 7pm, A Chorus and Country Christmas, at the Wallace Theater, 9750 Belvoir Road in Fort Belvoir, VA., with the Sea Chanters and Country Current
Dec. 15, 7:30 and Dec. 16, 5pm, Holiday Concert at DAR Constitution Hall, 1776 D Street, NW, DC, featuring the Commodores, Sea Chanters chorus, Country Current, and select members of the Concert Band and Cruisers (see: http://www.navyband.navy.mil/holiday_concert.shtml )
I'd love to hear about your DC holiday traditions - add to the list of fun things to do during this season of cheer.