Things to Do

Brave the Cold for Outdoor Holiday Events

Summer in Washington is humid and often unbearable, leaving some Washingtonians eager for the bitter cold of winter. This holiday season, take advantage of the brisk weather by enjoying an outdoor event (and some indoor ones for the cold-blooded) instead

Through January 4: Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park
The park will host the Anne Arundel Medical Center’s holiday light show. More than 70 illuminated and animated displays will be set up along the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Special additions to this year’s festival include lighted tunnels and a Colonial village. Proceeds will benefit the medical center’s foundation. Nightly 5 to 10 PM; $14 per car; 443-481-3161.

Tuesday, November 25, through Saturday, December 27: Norwegian Christmas at Union Station
Norway will present a 32-foot-tall Christmas tree to DC as a symbol of friendship. The tree will be decorated with 8,000 lights, which will be turned on during a ceremony at Union Station on November 25 at 6 PM. Free.

Friday through Sunday, November 26 through December 14, and every night from December 18 through 30 (except December 24 and 25): Zoo Lights
Explore the zoo and enjoy thousands of holiday lights stretching from Panda Plaza to Kids’ Farm, listen to special zookeeper talks, and enjoy live entertainment. The Small Mammal House, Great Ape House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank, and Kids’ Farm will be open during the event. Admission is $6 for zoo members, $12 nonmembers, groups of 25 $200; 6 to 8:30 PM.

Monday, November 24, through Sunday, January 4: Symphony of Lights at Merriweather Post Pavilion
More than 70 animated and stationary lights will be on display for the 15th annual Symphony of Lights. Groups of 50 or more can partake in a walk-through, a new feature of the light show. All proceeds will benefit Howard County General Hospital’s Maternal Child Services. Nightly from 6 to 10; $20 per car of up to 11 passengers; walk-through admission $5 per person.

Wednesday, November 26, through Sunday, January 4: Bull Run Festival of Lights
Bull Run Park celebrates the season with its light show. The weekends are the busiest nights to visit, so take advantage of weeknight deals and download a coupon here for an added discount. Open nightly from 5:30 to 9:30. Sunday through Thursday, $15 for cars or vans holding up to 14 people. Friday, Saturday, and holidays, $20 for cars or vans holding up to 14 people; 703-359-4633.

November 28 through January 1: Festival of Lights at Watkins Regional Park
Head to Upper Marlboro to see more than one million lights at the 2008 Festival of Lights. Visitors are encouraged to bring canned goods to be donated to local food banks. Nightly from 5 to 9:30; $5 per car or van, free on Christmas Day; 202-699-2456.

Friday, November 28, through Sunday, January 4: Garden of Lights
Brookside Gardens in Wheaton showcases more than 700,000 lights representing the four seasons. After enjoying the display, head indoors to the visitors’ center and listen to performances by local musicians and have light refreshments. Open nightly except December 24 and 25, 5:30 to 9 (last car admitted at 8:30). Admission Monday through Thursday $15 (cash only), Friday through Sunday $20 (cash only). Advance tickets may be purchased for $15 at the conservatory or visitors’ center. 

Friday through Sunday from November 28 through December 14: Mount Vernon by Candlelight
Walk along candlelit paths during evening tours of Mount Vernon. Afterward, guests can stroll outside, sing carols by the fire, and snack on hot cider and cookies. The estate will be open from 5 to 8 PM. Tickets can be purchased at the main gate or through Ticketmaster. Admission $18 for adults, $12 children 11 and younger.

Friday, November 28, through Tuesday, January 6: Christmas at Mount Vernon
Enjoy a dozen decorated Christmas trees, a gingerbread Mount Vernon mansion created by a former White House pastry chef, chocolate-making demonstrations, 18th-century dancing, and a Christmas camel. (George Washington had a camel on the grounds in 1787.) Visitors will also have access to the third floor of the mansion. Open 9 to 4; program included in general admission: adults $13, senior citizens $12, children 6 to 11 $6, children 5 and under free.

Thursday, December 4, through Thursday, January 1: National Christmas Tree

This year is the 85th anniversary of the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. The lighting ceremony will take place December 4 at 5 PM, and the tree will stay up through December. Tickets, free but required, can be picked up at the Ellipse Visitor Pavilion. Also check out the Pathway of Peace, 56 decorated trees representing the 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia. Lights will be displayed from dusk until 11 every evening. Free; 202-208-1631.

Thursday, December 4, through Saturday, December 6: Scottish Christmas Walk
Old Town’s 38th Annual Campagna Center Scottish Christmas Walk kicks off the season with a weekend of events and festive bagpipe music. The events will be held at the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria. Enjoy a Celtic concert, a tea party for the children, heather and greens sales, and more. Willard Scott will be the grand marshal for the parade (Saturday at 11 AM). The route begins at the corner of Wilkes and South Saint Asaph streets and ends at King and Royal streets. A map of the route can be downloaded at Thursday noon to 9:30, Friday 10 to 10:30, Saturday 10 to 4. The event is free, but you can make a donation here.

Friday, December 5, through Saturday, January 3: Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park
The light festival features an enchanted forest with more than 380 illuminated displays and 60 animated scenes. Drive along themed areas including Winter Woods, Teddy Bear Land, Victorian Village, and the North Pole. Proceeds will benefit local charities. The light show will be closed Christmas and New Year’s Say. Sunday through Thursday 6 to 9 PM; $10 in cash per vehicle. Friday and Saturday 6 to 10 PM; $12 in cash per vehicle.

Saturday, December 6: Burke & Herbert Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
More than 50 boats light up for the harbor boat parade at Old Dominion Boat Club. The parade will be led by the Alexandria Fireboat Vigilant, and the boat decorations will be judged. Get your picture with Santa starting at 4, and watch the parade at 6. Awards, entertainment, and drink specials will take place at the Waterfront Gourmet from 7:30 to 10. Free; 703-838-4200.

Saturday, December 6, through Thursday, January 1: Mormon Temple Lights
The Mormon Temple (also known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) light festival features about half a million lights outside as well as a live nativity scene featuring narration and music. Inside the visitors’ center, guests can see 85 nativities from around the world and 16 decorated trees as well as enjoy live entertainment in the main theater. A photo exhibit called “Reflections of Christ” will also be displayed. Visit for a complete list of entertainment. Lights will be on from 5:30 to 10:30 nightly; Free; 301-587-0144.

Saturday, December 13: Eastport Yacht Club Parade of Lights
Check out the 26th annual Eastport Yacht Club lights parade as boat owners show off their Christmas decorations through Annapolis Harbor. Dine at one of these restaurants offering a view of the parade: Carrolls Creek, Chart House, and Pussers and Phillips; or watch from the Eastport Bridge, the US Naval Academy, Annapolis City Dock, or the Fawcett Boat Supplies parking lot; 6 to 8.

December 21: National Hanukkah Menorah Lighting Ceremony
During the eight days of Hanukkah, a menorah is lit at the Ellipse on the White House grounds. One candle is lit during the lighting ceremony, and an additional candle will be lit every night for the next seven days. 4 PM; free, but tickets are required for reserved seats; 202-332-5600.

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