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How To Celebrate Christmas Time In Washington, D.C.

Picture of Kate McMahon
Updated: 16 November 2016
So, the nation is divided, the earth is warming at an unprecedented rate and Leonard Cohen died — but at least Christmas is on the horizon! Cheer yourself up by celebrating the festive season in Washington, D.C. at one of the capital’s best seasonal events.
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National Christmas Tree Lighting

For nearly a century, the U.S. has held a grand national tree lighting ceremony at The White House. This year’s ceremony will take place on December 1st, and entertainment includes Chance The Rapper and Kelly Clarkson. Tickets are distributed randomly through a lottery system but aren’t required to visit any other day. From Dec. 9th – 22nd, choirs, carolers and other performers will provide free, festive entertainment each evening.

The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW Washington, D.C., USA

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Bethesda Winter Wonderland

The neighborhood holiday party features the usual festive entertainment, but also a unique ice sculpting competition. Watch as artists chisel away blocks of ice to shape them into wonderful winter creations. Afterwards, caroling students from local schools will break out in tune, and Santa will arrive to listen to everyone’s wish lists. It is set to take place on Dec. 3rd from 1 – 4 p.m.

Veterans Park, 7800-, 7898 Woodmont Ave, Bethesda, MD, USA

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Christmas Pop-Up Bar

Nothing quite says Christmas like spiked egg nog and a naughty Santa Clause. The immensely popular festive pop-up bar returns to the District this year. Dubbed Miracle on Seventh Street, the bar invokes all things festive with elaborate decor and holiday cocktails. Entertainment includes a ‘bad Santa’ to pose with, drunk caroling and general cheer in this temporary winter wonderland that’s sloshing with alcohol.

Miracle on Seventh Street, 1843 7th St NW, Washington, D.C., USA +1 202 316 9396

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Zoo Lights

The National Zoo’s Christmastime light display transforms zoo grounds into the North Pole, with festive cheer spread over the 163-acre campus. Elaborate light displays, a luge track and plenty of hot cocoa await spectators at the free event. Approximately 500,000 lights with flashing coordinated to holiday tunes will mesmerize you. After-hours animals on exhibit include residents of the Small Mammal House and Reptile Discovery Center, and possibly the big cats — if they can be bothered to be awake. Lions sleep for an estimated 20 hours per day. The event runs every night from Nov. 25th – January 1st (excluding Christmas).

The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, D.C., USA +1 202 633 4888

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Seasons Greetings at The Botanic Garden

The National Botanic Garden brims with Christmas cheer — its rooms burst with the vibrant reds of poinsettia flowers and model trains whose tracks twist through the premises. Each year has a theme; in celebration of 2016’s National Park Centennial, replicas will be constructed of the nation’s most beloved national parks. All models are made of organic matter, mostly plants in the gardens, and will decompose after the season.

The Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave SW, Washington, D.C., USA +1 202 225 8333

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Smithsonian Holiday Festival

Think of this as the quintessential Christmas celebration that spans city-wide. The Smithsonian hosts an annual two day celebration on the National Mall to ring in the season. There’s music, author signings, a holiday film screening, free chocolate and a Santa Clause (the conventional kind); many museums also provide complimentary gift-wrapping. This year’s dates have yet to be announced.

National Mall, +1 202 426 6841

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The Water-Skiing Santa

Each year, Old Town Alexandria (a short drive from D.C.) hosts a rather eclectic holiday show on Christmas Eve that involves mythical characters and water sports. A santa impersonator Santa himself, dawned in the classic red suit, straps on a pair of water skis and glides down the Potomac River. The grinch pilots a jet ski, while Frosty the Snowman greets his adoring fans on land.

By Kate McMahon