Things to Do

23 Things to Do Around DC This December

The performances, exhibits, and other events worth your time this month.

Photograph of Halsey by Aidan Cullen.

Holiday Events That Aren’t Just The Usual

Gingertown DC

Gingertown DC, December 3

Photograph courtesy of David M. Schwarz Architects.

Gingerbread houses are a fun seasonal staple for pretty much everyone—except architects, who must suffer through all sorts of under-engineered amateur constructions with phony good cheer. But now DC’s building professionals finally have their own outlet: Gingertown DC.

Created by the architecture firm David M. Schwarz, Gingertown is an annual competition for local architecture, real estate, and engineering groups. Contestants have three hours to craft a completely edible structure based on their expertise. This year’s theme is Venice, which gives competitors the opportunity to address climate change and create sinking buildings amid blue-jellybean rivers.

The engineering firm Walter P. Moore has participated in the competition for the last eight years; senior associate Tom Yost says preparations begin about a month before the event and include foamcore models and scale calculations. Building with Necco wafers and other goodies is fun but also a sweet challenge. “As structural engineers, a lot of the time we’re just dealing with concrete and steel,” Yost says. “This is a good chance for us to flex our architectural muscle.”

The actual competition is open only to contestants, but finished creations will be on public display at 1500 K Street the following week. Sorry, no tasting.

Enchant Christmas

Nationals Park, November 22–December 29

After a Cinderella story of a baseball season, it’s only fitting that the Nats’ home would transform into a fairytale winter wonderland, complete with a giant ice rink and a 90,000-square-foot maze of lights. $19.99 to $33.99.

Taylor Mac’s Holiday Sauce

Kennedy Center, December 12

The playwright and performer makes the naughty list look fun by donning ornate costumes—or foregoing clothes altogether—in this revue featuring reworked versions of old Christmas songs. $39 to $129.

BrewLights at ZooLights

National Zoo, December 12

See the lights and get lit! Whether you’re toasting to celebrate the holidays or drinking to get through them, the zoo rings in the season with unlimited pours of craft beer and microbrews to go with its animal-inspired light display. $65.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker

Strathmore, December 17–19

Tchaikovsky meets turntables in this retelling of the ballet classic, complete with an onstage DJ and electric violinist, an opening set from hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow, and a breakdancing Sugar Plum Fairy. $33 to $68.

Festival of Laughs

DC Improv, December 30

Comedian Jessica Kirson has joked that she takes ecstasy when she visits her family because “it makes me love them.” For those who are sick of their relatives but prefer to cope using humor rather than mind-altering substances, Kirson headlines this comedy fest on the last night of Hanukkah. $18.


Songs You Probably Won’t Hear

If you buy a ticket to one of these concerts, be forewarned: You are going to be listening to Christmas music. But what won’t you get?

Brian McKnight

Hollywood Casino, December 7

You’ll hear: Smooth faves from his 2008 album, I’ll Be Home for Christmas.

You won’t hear: “If Ur Ready To Learn,” a 2012 song for a shelved “adult mixtape” project that’s so straight-up raunchy it alienated even some die-hard fans. $40 to $80.

Mariah Carey

MGM National Harbor, December 9-10

Photograph by James Devaney/Wireimage.

You’ll hear: The modern classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You” for the trillionth time.

You won’t hear: Carey’s angry 2002 song “Clown,” in which she apparently calls out Eminem for being a whiny attention hound after he publicly suggested they’d once dated. $110 to $500.

She & Him

The Anthem, December 5

You’ll hear: Folked-up holiday material from Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward’s two albums of Christmas songs.

You won’t hear: Their version of Mel Carter’s soul ballad “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” which is a bit too sexy-time to sandwich between “Little Saint Nick” and “Run Run Rudolph.”

$46 to $76.


Three Fun Culinary Talks at Sixth & I

Alison Roman

December 10

Photograph by Mike McGregor/Getty.

At a time in human history when anyone living in a major US city can take a class on how to create the perfectly composed cheese board, Roman’s simple approach to making food for friends is desperately needed. Light on table settings, heavy on single-sheet-pan meals, the New York Times writer’s latest book, Nothing Fancy, cements her status as a Martha Stewart for the Madewell set. $22 to $45.

Breaking Bread

December 17

Photograph by Matt McClain/Washington Post/Getty.

The Moth meets the broth when some of the area’s finest food stars—Kith and Kin chef Kwame Onwuachi, Top Chef’s Carla Hall, Pati’s Mexican Table host Pati Jinich—participate in a night of storytelling. They’ll be dishing about their lives, their careers, and their meals at this Story District event. $30 to 35.

Rachael Ray

December 2

Photograph courtesy of Food Network.

In honor of her 50th birthday, TV’s perkiest kitchen coach is releasing a cookbook/memoir, Rachael Ray 50, which favors family history and recipes over prep tips. On the local stop of her book tour, she and Carla Hall will chat about Ray’s new dishes and the old stories behind them. $25 to $55.


Peter Pan

Sidney Harman Hall, December 3–January 12

Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s take on Peter Pan retains all of the beloved tale’s magic but ditches the bits of the J.M. Barrie classic that she thinks haven’t aged well. The world premiere of her adaptation deemphasizes the antics of Peter and his Lost Boy bros, catapults Wendy Darling into the limelight as a young scientist obliterating the status quo, and replaces the problematic depiction of the indigenous people of Neverland with a more respectful treatment. $35 to $120.


Lucy Dacus

9:30 Club, December 7

Photograph by Julia Rendleman/New York T​imes/Redux.

After dropping unexpected cover tracks all year—an Edith Piaf tune for Valentine’s Day, a Phil Collins rendition for Halloween—the Richmond-based musician compiled them into an EP, November’s 2019. Alongside three originals, Dacus, who’s also part of the band Boygenius, makes classic tunes her own with the soulful vocals she’s known for as well as moody production. There’s even a well-timed version of “Last Christmas.” $25.


DaBaby

Echostage, December 7

Photograph by Jessica Lehrman/New York T​imes/Redux.

As if we weren’t already excited for the endlessly clever Charlotte, North Carolina, rapper to come here: He celebrated the debut of his hard-hitting album Kirk at number one by dancing through the streets of Northwest DC—he was in town for a performance at Howard’s homecoming—and buying out some local kids’ entire supply of Girl Scout–like cookies. $39.50 to $69.50.


The Cartiers: The Untold Story of the Family Behind the Jewelry Empire by Francesca Cartier Brickell

Hillwood Museum, December 10

Photograph by Edward Owen.

Luxury-goods connoisseurs are intimately familiar with Cartier jewelry, from its diamond-and-emerald-encrusted panthers to its locking Love bracelets. But much less is known about the three brothers who popularized the French company, which sold the Hope Diamond to a DC socialite and created the tiara Kate Middleton wore at her wedding. Francesca Cartier Brickell, whose great-great-great-grandfather founded the gemstone group in 1847, chronicles its history with color and clarity. $7 to $22.


Come From Away

Kennedy Center, December 10–January 5

The Broadway cast of the Tony-winning musical Come From Away stopped in DC this fall to perform a handful of tunes for one of NPR’s Tiny Desk concerts. Now you can check out the full-length musical (which had a successful pre-Broadway production at Ford’s Theatre in 2016). The show tells the true story of how a small Newfoundland town nearly doubled in population on September 12, 2001, when it welcomed 7,000 air travelers stranded after 9/11. $49 to $169.


Surfaces

U Street Music Hall, December 13

Photograph courtesy of artists.

If self-care had a soundtrack, it would be Surfaces. It’s not just the Texas indie-pop group’s relentless positivity and sunny lyrics but also their determination to find a way to chillax in this mad world. Pop a CBD gummy before seeing them perform songs from their latest, Where the Light Is, which is all about indulging in Caribbean vacation vibes and shutting off the wi-fi for a spell. There’s even an anthem for warding off the Sunday scaries (the breezy “Sunday Best”). $15.


Art Ensemble of Chicago

Kennedy Center, December 14

Photograph by Barbara Barefield Photo.

After releasing a lauded new album in May, the influential avant-garde jazz troupe—now celebrating its 50th anniversary—is taking its experimental explorations on the road. The current incarnation features Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye (pictured) along with a lineup of other like-minded musicians, who will bring the literal bells and whistles—plus a piccolo trumpet and maybe a water drum or two—to town. $30 to $40.


Should Washington Care About Squash?

For the first time in its 52-year history, the Men’s World Team Squash Championship is coming to the States ($25 to $150; worldteamsquashdc.com), and DC’s Squash on Fire—a former West End fire station converted into a facility for the racquetball-like sport—is hosting it December 15 through 21. Is this a big deal?

Pro squash player Gregory Gaultier. Photograph by Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty.

So this is like the World Cup?

Not exactly. Players from 23 countries compete in the weeklong event, culminating in a championship round. But it’s not quite a stadium-filling phenomenon. “The numbers are not going to be impressive in terms of millions of viewers the way you would talk about baseball, soccer, and sports like that,” says Team USA player Christopher Gordon. “But it’s not the number of people who view it—it’s the proximity they’re able to get to the athletes. You’re coming in contact with some of the best players in the world in a club setting.”

But it’s huge on TV, right?

Well, it’ll be streamed on Facebook Live and also probably SquashTV. Apparently, the tournament attracts big audiences in Egypt and India, among other places.

What’s so great about the game itself?

“The thing to initially note about squash,” Gordon says, “is that it’s a very diverse game in terms of the physical requirements. You can be small, powerful, quick. You can be tall, thin, lanky, and flexible. There are lots of ways to succeed. There’s a big mental aspect. There’s the power/strength aspect. There’s an endurance aspect. It checks a lot of boxes. It can be appealing to a lot of people.”

So . . . not really like the World Cup, then.

No. But still a big deal if you’re into squash!


Jingle Ball

Capital One Arena, December 16

Halsey headlines Hot 99.5’s annual festival of Top 40 acts performing their most popular tunes—in her case, likely including the infectious recent single “Graveyard.” Also on the bill: crooners Khalid and Charlie Puth, rapper French Montana, and former One Direction member Niall Horan, whose new song, “Nice to Meet Ya,” is pretty catchy as well. $40 to $200.


Hello/Goodbye

The National Children’s Museum ($10.95; nationalchildrensmuseum.org) will soon reopen after an extensive overhaul. Meanwhile, on December 31, the Newseum ($24.95; newseum.org) will close for good. To celebrate/mourn the arrival/departure of these institutions on Pennsylvania Avenue, Northwest, here are three things to check out at each.

National Children’s Museum

1. Bubble Room

Washington natives who remember encasing their entire bodies in kid-size bubbles at the old Capital Children’s Museum can now share the experience with their own little ones.

2. Innovation Sandbox

This exhibit changes every couple of years,but the cur­rent version includes an interactive green-screen experience that turns kids into weather-controlling climate-action superheroes.

3. Slime Room

As part of the museum’s partnership with Nickelodeon, this STEAM-meets-slime exhibit uses green goo to teach children about probability. Unlike the messy days of You Can’t Do That on Television, though, kids are slimed virtually.

Newseum

1. Berlin Wall Gallery

This installation—which looks at how the media helped bring down the Communist regime—includes an actual guard tower and eight 12-foot-high graffitied panels from the wall.

2. Today’s Front Pages

The popular feature showcasing real newspaper front pages from around the globe will live on in digital form. But don’t miss a chance to check out the physical newsprint version one last time.

3. “Make Some Noise: Students and the Civil Rights Movement”

Don’t leave without visiting this exhibit about young people’s role in the fight for civil rights. One highlight: part of the actual Woolworth lunch counter where the sit-in movement was born.


This article appears in the December 2019 issue of Washingtonian.

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