DC Travel Guide  |  Things to Do

December in Washington

This month’s calendar is packed with holiday celebrations from a light display at the National Zoo to performances at the Washington National Cathedral. Plus—a Jewish film festival, water-skiing Santa, and much more

November 19 through January 3: Christmas on the Potomac at Gaylord National Resort
More than 2,000,000 lights and a 60-foot glass Christmas tree are on display at Gaylord National Resort at National Harbor. The holiday celebration features choir performances, carved-ice sculptures, a fountain show, ice skating, scavenger hunts, indoor snowfall, and visits with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Tickets range from $13 to $24.50 depending on age and when you go; kids under four are free. Military and group discounts are available. Purchase tickets here.

November 27 through December 13: Mount Vernon by Candlelight
Learn about George and Martha Washington’s Christmas traditions with a candlelight tour of their home. You’ll also meet historical characters including Martha herself. Fireside carol singing, hot apple cider, and ginger cookies are part of the festivities. Open 5 to 8 Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets—$18 for adults, $12 for kids under 12—on sale beginning November 1.

December 3: National Christmas Tree Lighting
A holiday tradition dating back to 1923, the National Christmas Tree lighting begins a nearly monthlong ritual in which the 40-foot Colorado blue spruce on the Ellipse is illuminated every evening through January 1. The kickoff event features musical performances and other entertainment plus a speech from the President. Free tickets are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis by the National Park Service.

December 3 through 13: Washington Jewish Film Festival
Now in its 20th year, the Washington Jewish Film Festival screens more than 40 films focusing on Jewish culture and experience. Thousands of viewers attend the annual festival, and awards are handed out to audience favorites. Tickets go on sale in November. Films are shown at theaters throughout Washington.

December 4 and 5: Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend
For two days, celebrate Scottish holiday traditions with music, food, shopping, and more. The main event is the annual parade (Saturday 11 to 1), in which more than 100 Scottish clans, pipe-and-drum bands, Scottish dancers, Scottie dogs, dignitaries, and Santa Claus march through Old Town. The parade begins at Wilkes and South Pitt streets in Alexandria and ends at Wolfe and South Saint Asaph streets. Most other events, including a marketplace on Friday, take place at the George Washington Masonic Memorial.

December 4 and 5: Bethesda’s Winter Wonderland

Join the Bethesda community for holiday concerts, ice sculptures, and Santa Claus during this two-day celebration. All events are free.

December 4 through 6: George Frideric Handel’s Messiah at Washington National Cathedral

Under the direction of music director Michael McCarthy, the Cathedral Choir performs The Messiah at 7:30 PM on Friday and 4 on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $20 to $80.

December 4 through January 2: Zoo Lights

Visit the National Zoo during its annual holiday-lights season to see thousands of lights and animated exhibits throughout the grounds. The displays feature many of the zoo’s animals, and there are activities and entertainment for the whole family. Tickets—$5 for zoo members and $8 for nonmembers—are required and will be on sale in late fall. The event runs from 6 to 8:30 Friday through Sunday from December 4 through 13 and every night—except December 24, 25, and 31—starting December 18.

December 5: Parade of Lights Holiday Boat Parade
Boat owners decorate their sails and power boats for this annual light parade and competition. Starting at 5:30 PM, boats line up on Old Town’s waterfront and cruise along the Potomac. The event is free.

December 12: Civil War Christmas in Camp
Ever wonder what Christmas was like for Civil War soldiers? Here’s your chance to find out. Head to the Fort Ward Museum and Historic Site for a patriotic Santa Claus, Civil War reenactors, a Victorian tree and decorations, period music, and readings of “The Night Before Christmas.” There are also guided tours of the fort if weather permits. The event runs from 12 to 4; suggested donation of $2 for adults, $1 for kids.

December 12 and 13: The Joy of Christmas Concert at the Washington National Cathedral

The Cathedral Choral Society and the Heritage Signature Chorale team up to perform seasonal favorites under the direction of J. Reilly Lewis and Stanley J. Thurston. Musical accompaniment will be provided by an organist, a carilloneur, and the Washington Symphonic Brass. There’s a family-oriented matinee at noon on Saturday and 4 PM performances both days.

December 13: Lighting of the National Hanukkah Menorah on the Ellipse
This event on the White House grounds includes musical performances and traditional Jewish food. Advance free tickets are required.

December 24: Water-Skiing Santa
Don’t miss this quirky annual event on the Potomac River, which brings Santa to town on water skis along with knee-boarding reindeer, flying elves, a jet-skiing Grinch, and a seafaring Frosty the Snowman. The event, which starts at 1 PM in any weather, includes a sing along. The best viewing is from National Harbor.

This article is part of Washingtonian.com’s Visitors’ Guide. For more articles like it, click here. If you’re visiting in a different month, check out our City Schedule for events happening throughout the year.