Things to Do

Winter Holidays in Washington: Tree-Lighting Ceremonies, Festivals, and Holiday Markets

Your guide to all the festive events happening around town.

The National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony is one of many happening around town. Photograph by Flickr user Tim Evanson.

Tree-Lighting Ceremonies

National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony
If you were lucky enough to get a ticket, head over to the White House Ellipse for the national Christmas tree lighting on December 6 at 4:30. The First Family will be in attendance, as well as performers including the Avett Brothers, Mariah Carey, Joshua Bell, and Aretha Franklin, among others. And if you didn’t get a ticket, don’t worry; the ceremony will be streaming live online.

Capitol, Fairmont, and Union Station Christmas Trees
The official lighting ceremonies may have passed, but it’s still worth your time to go see these trees. The Capitol Christmas Tree, which came from Washington State, boasts more than 5,000 handmade ornaments and will be lit from dusk to 11 PM through the season. The Christmas tree at Union Station was given to DC by the Royal Norwegian Embassy as a symbol of friendship between the US and Norway, and this year it is decorated to mark the 150th anniversary of Norwegian artist Edvard Munch.

Manassas Christmas Tree Lighting
At 5:30 on December 6, the Merry Old Town celebration kicks off with holiday music. Stay through the lighting at the Manassas Museum and give your children a chance to tell Santa their wishes at the Harrison Pavilion Gazebo. Take a free hayride around Old Town or go ice-skating at the Harrison Pavilion Ice Rink.

Leesburg Christmas Tree Lighting
Join the town mayor at the annual Christmas tree and menorah lighting on December 6 from 6 to 7 at the Leesburg Town Green. Enjoy performances by the Loudoun Chorale and the Loudoun County High School chamber choir, as well as holiday messages from the mayor and town council.

City of Gaithersburg’s Jingle Jubilee
On December 7 from 6 to 7:30, head over to the City Hall Concert Pavilion for the town’s tree-lighting ceremony. Drink hot chocolate and eat churros and other treats while listening to performances by the Prichard Music Honors Brass, Kentlands Chorus, Gaithersburg High School Band, and Aishlinn Kivlighn. Don’t forget to bring your camera so your kids can take photos with Santa, Rudolph, and even Spider-Man.

Rockville Town Square
On December 5, from 6:30 to 9, the Rockville Town Square hosts its official tree lighting along with a holiday open house. Watch live performances, take a carriage ride, go ice-skating, and stop by the shops and restaurants for special promotions. As we know, the holiday season is all about giving, so bring a toy to benefit the Housing Opportunities Commission.


Smithsonian Holiday Festival
December 7 and 8, the Smithsonian hosts events such as a performance by the US Air Force Singing Sergeants, a Polar Express 3-D Experience screening, a jewelry trunk show, and Segway tours at the Mall Terrace. If you’re a book lover, stop by to get a signed copy of books by select authors.

Holiday Happiness in Ho-Ho-Howard County, Merryland!
Through January 12, Ellicott City hosts holiday events from an annual Christmas horse parade to a Spanish New Year’s celebration.

Fête des Lumières
Georgetown brings the spirit of France to DC with Fête des Lumières Georgetown. The weeklong festival, from December 13 through 20, hosts four international artists and their public art displays. These light installations will be placed throughout Georgetown and include a collection of LED-lit mannequins and an interactive light wall.

Harbor Holiday Festival
This family festival welcomes kids and adults to take part in an indoor holiday celebration. From December 6 to 8 at the Gaylord Hotel, guests can visit more than 150 specialty boutiques, stroll through the trees, create and decorate crafts, and take photos with Santa. Tickets are $12 for adults, and children under 15 are free.

ICE! at Gaylord National
Through January 5 experience “ ’Twas the Night Before Christmas” in life-size ice sculptures. Take in the beauty of these hand-carved ice sculptures, some standing more than 20 feet high. A 2013 special includes a bonus scene featuring Christmas in New York City. All guests are provided with coats, but it’s a good idea to bundle up. Tickets (prices vary) are available online.

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
The annual boat parade is back this year on December 7 at the Alexandria Marina. Brightly lit boats float along the Potomac River, led by Alexandria’s fireboat, Vigilant, and DC’s fireboat, John Glenn. If you head over to the docks around 3, you can see the Braddock Brass Band and take photos with Santa.


The Christmas Attic
For a third year, The Christmas Attic teams up with the community in Alexandria to produce an exhibition featuring illuminated canvases of art. Each day through December 25, the store will reveal a new art piece by local organizations and artists. On Saturdays, there will also be holiday activities, kid crafts, and a visit from Santa.

Downtown DC Holiday Market
Located in the heart of downtown DC, the annual holiday market is back for its ninth year, featuring more than 150 regional artisans, crafters, and boutique businesses. The market goes through December 23, and is open from noon to 8 each day.

Shop Local at Grump
Searching for crafty and unique Christmas gifts? On December 7 from 11 to 5 Artisphere hosts this holiday craft show, where 40 local makers sell handmade goods. Spend the day shopping, while enjoying tunes from a deejay and snacks.

Holiday Market at Del Ray Artisans
Buy gifts such as unique jewelry, paper crafts, or photography for family and friends, while supporting your local artists. The market opens on weekends, from December 6 through 22.

Tysons Corner Center Holiday Market
One of the most visited malls in the US, the Tysons Corner Center, in partnership with the German Embassy and city of Dresden, brings an outdoor holiday market December 13 and 14. Experience the feel of a traditional German market, complete with food, music, and crafts. When you need a break, grab a drink in the beer garden.

Kris Kringle Christmas Market
Originating in Germany and Austria, the Kris Kringle market is a traditional street market, usually held during the four weeks of Advent. This year, the Charles County Fair brings the area’s first Kris Kringle Christmas Market, promising two days of food, crafts, shopping, and music. The market is open December 6 and 7, and admission is $1 or a non-perishable food item to benefit the Southern Maryland Food Bank.