Make it a day trip or a weekend in these charming small towns that know how to celebrate the season.
St. Michaels, Maryland
Distance from DC: 82 miles (Map it)
Christmas festivities get a nautical twist in this Eastern Shore town. Two parades take place December 10: one on land and another in the bay. First, the annual holiday promenade at 10:30 AM features antique cars and fire engines rolling alongside llamas (yes, real-life llamas) walking down Talbot Street.
Once the sun sets, head to the harbor for the second parade, in which boats are adorned in their holiday finest—rainbow lights, Santa motifs, and sometimes even towering Christmas trees—for a maritime light show. For more decor, check out the town’s map of decked-out houses, and grab a $25 ticket on December 10 and 11 to tour historic homes dressed up for the season.
Distance from DC: 185 miles (Map it)
Before claiming its “Christmas City” moniker, the town was named by Moravian missionaries on December 24, 1741. The nickname holds true: Each holiday season, buildings are festooned with lights, horse-drawn carriages roll through the historic district, Christmas programs hit the stage, and nativity scenes abound.
Dozens of makers sell holiday goods at Christkindlmarkt, the Bavarian holiday market, where shoppers can find ornaments and jewelry as well as seasonal treats such as strudel, roasted nuts, and warm drinks. An outdoor ice rink is debuting this year next to SteelStacks, the converted Bethlehem Steel plant, and skaters can glide daily, including holidays (November 22 through January 1).
Distance from DC: 152 miles (Map it)
For an old-fashioned holiday, head to Colonial Williamsburg, where roving carolers and the Fife & Drums—a group of uniformed reenactors with instruments—perform festive songs. The streets of the 18th-century village are a holiday stage with live theater performances telling the tale of townspeople preparing for a yuletide ball.
There are modern elements, too, such as the Grand Illumination, a fireworks display on December 3, 10, and 17. If you’re looking for more trimmings beyond the blazing cressets, 2,500 wreaths, and ornamented tree, drop by neighboring Busch Gardens for the amusement park’s annual “Christmas Town” (November 11 through January 8). Grab a hot cider and stroll through grounds transformed into charming European hamlets glittering with 10 million lights.
Distance from DC: 42 miles (Map it)
Santa’s reindeer get a break in this equestrian town, where horses and hounds shepherd in the season. A weekend of programming, dubbed Christmas in Middleburg, starts December 2 with the lighting of a towering tree and seasonal tunes. The next morning at 11, foxhunt riders don vibrant red coats to trot through the streets on horseback, followed later in the day by a parade of vintage cars, floats, and the sweater-clad “Corgi Corps.” Can’t make it for the pomp and circumstance? The 18th-century town still exudes Christmas charm throughout the month, embellishing the brick-lined walkways with twinkling lights and pine branches.
Distance from DC: 142 miles (Map it)
Decorated storefronts and cheery lights illuminate a Victorian town fit for a Hallmark movie. In fact, scenes from the 1999 romantic comedy The Runaway Bride were shot in the artsy community near Ocean City. Holiday festivities kick off November 25 with the lighting of a 30-foot-tall tree, while an ice-sculpture show displays works of frozen art around town. Browse local artisans at the winter market on weekends (November 25 through December 18); children can have their photo snapped with Santa at the red-and-green Kringle Kottage. This year’s Christmas parade, on December 1, includes floats, marching bands, and fire trucks gussied up in an Eastern Shore theme to pay homage to the region.
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Distance from DC: 258 miles (Map it)
No need to journey to the North Pole: This quaint mountain town has a direct line for Claus-related communication closer to home. Kids can drop their letters into a giant mailbox in the center of town, where one of Santa’s helpers, Mayor Beverly White, responds to each query—just be sure to stamp envelopes with a return address. The idyllic streets are pretty in the daylight, but extended store hours leading up to Christmas are an excuse to shop and explore the town when the snowflake lights are glowing. Sip a hot chocolate while you stroll or, on weekends, flag down a horse-drawn carriage for a storybook ride. Nearby, the Greenbrier resort turns into an ornate holiday dreamland with themed trees, Christmas installations, and halls decked with boughs of holly.
Distances are measured from the Washington Monument.
This article appears in the November 2022 issue of Washingtonian.