Christmas is Washington’s most wonderful time of the year. Why? No crowds (like during spring break), no overpowering humidity (like during the summer), and most important, distinctly DC sights that are all dressed up for “the festive season.” I am a native Washingtonian and have picked out our very best sights and described them here, as my Christmas present to you!
Behold the National Christmas Tree at the White House! Note how perfectly perfect it is…almost too perfect to be real (though it is) or visually interesting…but you have to see it at least once.
The very first National Christmas Tree was decorated in 1923, when “First Lady Grace Coolidge gave permission for the District of Columbia Public Schools to erect a Christmas tree on the Ellipse south of the White House…That Christmas Eve, President Calvin Coolidge walked from the White House to the Ellipse and “pushed the button” to light the 48-foot Balsam fir, as enthusiastic spectators looked on,” according to nationalchristmastree.org. Click here to read more about the history of the National Christmas Tree. To find out how to attend the National Christmas tree lighting ceremony, click here.
To tour the sumptuous Christmas decorations inside the White House, click here.
Can’t get tickets to tour the White House at Christmas? No problem! Just order Laura Dowling’s book, A White House Christmas. Laura was the Chief Floral Designer at the White House during the Obama administrations. Her book will give you an up-close-and-personal look at the WH Christmas decorations, plus how to make some of them. Let’s look at pictures from it…
The gorgeous wallpaper in the Diplomatic Reception Room (above) was installed by Jackie Kennedy in 1961. For more on Jackie’s renovation of the DRR, click here.
In her book, Laura takes us behind-the-scenes of the highly detailed, year-long planning process for creating Christmas decorations befitting the White House.
The U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree is the Prettiest
The Capitol’s Christmas tree is the prettiest outdoor tree in DC. It stands alone in a peaceful place at the base of Capitol Hill. It doesn’t have the commercial, for-tourists feel of the National Christmas Tree at the White House. There are no crowds of admirers…I don’t know why. Gazing at its simple decorations with the U.S. Capitol as a backdrop is a lovely, quiet sight. When you turn your back to the Capitol, you will look down the National Mall at the Washington Monument.
“The tradition of the Capitol Christmas Tree, or “The People’s Tree,” began in 1964 when Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John W. McCormack (D-MA) placed a live Christmas tree on the Capitol lawn. This tree lived three years before succumbing to wind and root damage…Since then, a different national forest has been chosen each year to provide “The People’s Tree.” (from the Capitol Christmas Tree website)
U.S. Botanic Garden: Trains & Plants
Just a few steps from the U.S. Capitol’s Christmas tree is the Botanic Garden. Every Christmas, they create a model train exhibit whose tracks are laced in and out of the fabulous plants in the BG. The US Botanic Garden is small and beautiful. Go!
“Take a trip across America as our annual holiday show, Season’s Greenings, showcases Roadside Attractions! In our model train show, trains will chug around, below, through, and above plant-based recreations of iconic sights from across the United States. This year, the theme is “Seasons Greetings: Roadside Attractions.” (from the BG website)
Sample itinerary: Downtown
- Visit the trains at the Botanic Garden
- Take in the quiet beauty of the Christmas tree at the base of Capitol Hill
- Stop for a drink at the Willard Hotel, where “Kentucky Statesman Henry Clay first introduces the Mint Julep outside of Kentucky in the Round Robin Bar,” according to the history of the hotel on the WH’s website. It’s on Pennsylvania Avenue, of course!
- Walk the Pathway of Peace to see the National Christmas Tree and state trees.
The Washington National Cathedral sits at the top of Wisconsin Avenue, which leads into Georgetown, a hop skip and a jump away, so let’s start here. If you don’t have the Christmas spirit, visit the Cathedral and you will get it! Its gorgeous decorations (the altar guild ladies have great taste and talent), charming Creche Collection (of nativity scenes from around the world, on display from late November to early January), and gift shop will infuse you with the spirit. The Joy of Christmas concert is a Washington tradition that is particularly festive, cheerful, uplifting, and beautiful in this glorious setting.
Since you’re at the Cathedral and the Cathedral is so close to Georgetown, saunter on down Wisconsin Avenue towards the Potomac River to do a little…
Christmas Shopping, House Gazing and Merry-Making
- Everards’ Clothing in the 1800 block of Wisconsin Ave has nice clothes for men and women, despite its somewhat austere website.
- While Georgetown has it fair share of chain stores, plenty of boutiques abound. The 1600 block of Wisconsin Avenue is especially good. Patisserie Poupon is a nice little place in this block for a quick lunch. Look at the beautiful things (plates, serving pieces, jewelry, linens, and lots more) in A Mano…
- Continue down Wisconsin Avenue towards the Potomac River. There is a nice handful of boutiques at Wisconsin and P, including
- Just Paper and Tea is a charming little shop with elegant paper products
- The Lantern Used and Rare Books has excellent prices!
- A couple of upscale consignment shops, Ella-Rue and Reddz Trading
- The Christ Child Opportunity Shop, where many a Washingtonian has found deals on antiques
- Have lunch where Jack proposed to Jackie in 1953 at Billy Martin’s Tavern, a wood-paneled comfort food spot.
- More shopping on M Street. Peruse the especially attractive interior design stores on Cady’s Alley and then have lunch at Leopold’s Kafe.
Dine at 1789
Dine at wonderful, old 1789 Restaurant, right next to Georgetown University, on a night they have carolers (December 15-24). They are tuxedo-clad and stand in front of this fireplace…this is an important point because they don’t saunter from table to table, forcing you to smile encouragingly while staring at them for an entire song sung in front of your table. So festive and elegant! Plus, very good food and warm ambience.
And last but not least, cross the Potomac River to visit our first president at Christmas at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon. Click through to explore Mt. Vernon’s numerous and varied Christmas-themed tours.
Voici some fun facts about our first president and Christmas:
- “44-year old George Washington made one of the boldest decisions in military history when he led his troops across the icy Delaware River on Christmas evening, 1776″ (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)
- Click here for an intriguing list of GW’s whereabouts on various Christmases, including the detached kitchen of his burned-down boyhood home; on a ship returning from Barbados to Virginia; visiting an “Indian Queen;” and hauling in fish nets on the Potomac River. Did George ever sit still?!?
- “On December 23, 1783, George Washington resigned his military commission in Annapolis and returned to Mt. Vernon in time for Christmas, bearing gifts for his family.” (from recent email from Mt. Vernon)