At some point over the next few weeks, a friend or colleague is going to grouse that “There’s nothing to do tonight.”
If there’s one time of year when you can’t complain about a lack of places to go and things to do, it’s the holiday season. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve, the D.C. area is covered with a blizzard of concerts, light displays, holiday markets and other festive events. To prove it, we’ve found events for every single day until 2020. Carols played on tubas? Santa on water skis? Christmas-themed cocktails? We’ve got them all — and for those saving up to buy the perfect gift, every date on the calendar includes at least one free event.
Happy holidays, indeed.
* Events marked with an asterisk are one-night only.
Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov of the San Francisco Ballet and Bolshoi Ballet, this production features an abundance of whimsical touches, including colorful, high-tech video projections and towering storybooks, and it closely follows E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original 1816 story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.” Nov. 27-Dec. 1 at the Kennedy Center. $49-$249.
One of the region’s most unusual art museums is responsible for this annual holiday market, where aluminum mermaid sculptures, fanciful felt hats and cheery clay vases are among the gifts for the lucky souls on your list. Nov. 29-30 at American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. Free.
Dozens of local artists — printmakers, jewelers, leatherworkers and mumbo sauce makers — sell their wares at the D.C. brewery’s annual market, while visitors sip special beers and listen to live music. 1-5 p.m. at DC Brau. Free.
The opening event of the Wharf’s holiday season features more than a 40-foot Christmas tree: There’s a choir, ice skating on the seasonal rink, buskers and festive holiday s’mores around the outdoor fire pit. 6-8 p.m. at District Square at the Wharf. Free.
The Mid-Atlantic jazz combo will perform the music of the beloved “A Charlie Brown Christmas” TV special, a mix of “Peanuts” originals composed by pianist Vince Guaraldi and jazzy twists on classic holiday songs. 3 and 6:30 p.m. at the Hamilton. $14.75-$34.75.
A Christmas tree made from hubcaps, a festively decorated Mr. Boh and numerous LED-covered Santas are among the attractions at this long-running Baltimore tradition, which turns a block of Hampden rowhouses into a very quirky, very bright and very over-the-top celebration of the season. Nov. 30-Jan. 1 on the block of 34th Street between Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue in Baltimore. Free.
There are two new additions to the National Zoo’s crowd-pleasing family attraction this year: “Entre Les Rangs,” which resembles a wheat field of glowing, swaying colored lights; and a collection of large, animal-shaped lanterns. Don’t worry: All the usual favorites, including the National Zoo Choo-Choo and laser shows, will be back. Nov. 29-Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24, 25 and 31) at the National Zoo. Free.
The wiseacres at Ivy and Coney are once again turning their neighborhood tavern into a month-long celebration of Hanukkah. This year, it’s been dubbed Bar Mitzvah. “Decked out to look like your local JCC disco party, Bar Mitzvah will get you into the spirit to dance the hora AND the electric slide,” co-founder Josh Saltzman promises in an email. Expect latkes and Manischewitz wine on the menu, as well as the return of the ShotNorah, a menorah-shaped contraption that allows eight customers to take shots, such as sufgani-shots (“jelly doughnuts in shot form”), at the same time. Though the party lasts all month, things do get serious during Hanukkah, when the menorah will be lit each night at 7:30. Dec. 2-29 (closed Dec. 25) at 1537 Seventh St. NW. Free.
Now in its fifth year, this holiday-themed pop-up bar has become a seasonal attraction in its own right, drawing lines longer than some well-known light displays. The over-the-top decorations in the four interconnected bars pay homage to teddy bears (in partnership with Children’s National Hospital); “Chinese and a movie,” in honor of Hanukkah; and, in a first, the World Series champion Washington Nationals. Miracle on Seventh doesn’t take reservations, except for a special event on Dec. 23, so if you want to avoid long waits in the cold, show up after happy hour and go on a Tuesday or Wednesday evening. (Obviously, weather can impact the line.) Through Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 24-25) at 1825 Seventh St. NW. Free.
Be thankful for your annual gift from the people of Norway: a large, decorated Christmas tree in the historic Main Hall of Union Station. This year’s tree, decorated to honor the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, will be lit by Norwegian Ambassador Kare R. Aas with performances by the String Queens and the Washington Performing Arts Children of the Gospel Choir. 6-8 p.m. at Union Station. Free.
The lighting of the White House Christmas Tree (on Dec. 5) involves a ticket lottery and badly snarled traffic. The Capitol’s Christmas Tree, on the other hand, is a more low-key affair. This year’s tree, a 60-foot blue spruce from New Mexico’s Carson National Forest, will be lit by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at a free ceremony open to all. 5 p.m. at the West Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Free.
Actress Zooey Deschanel and indie rocker M. Ward’s retro pop act She & Him released two albums of holiday songs this past decade, so the duo is hosting a “Christmas Party” at the Anthem, offering their takes on “All I Want for Christmas Is You,” “Run Run Rudolph,” “Sleigh Ride” and more. 8 p.m. at the Anthem. $46.
At this time of year, it can seem as if there aren’t enough hours in the day to find gifts for everyone. Annapolis’s Midnight Madness helps by keeping downtown boutiques and galleries open extra-late on Thursdays for holiday shopping. Musicians, street performers and Instagrammable light displays — and a plethora of restaurants and bars — combine for a scene more fun than a trip to the mall. 6 p.m.-midnight in downtown Annapolis; also Dec. 12 and Dec. 19. Free.
The annual display of 11 site-specific light installations includes artists from around the globe and close to home — including one with a trio of live dancers from Dance Place. Walking tours and photo safaris help connect the art to the historic neighborhood. Dec. 6-Jan. 5 at various sites in Georgetown. Free.
Wolf Trap opens the Filene Center annually in December for a free singalong of Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs with the United States Marine Band and local choir groups. Bring your best singing voice, a bell for “Jingle Bells” and a candle for the “Silent Night” candlelight processional. 4 p.m. at Wolf Trap. Free.
Much Christmas music focuses on the beauty of the Nativity. Composer Hector Berlioz focused on the flight into Egypt. His three-part oratorio centers on Mary, Joseph and the baby fleeing King Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. The In Series is framing the piece as a way to address migration and those who help victims of persecution, teaming up with the acclaimed choral conductor Stanley Thurston and his choruses at Foundry United Methodist Church. 3 p.m. at Foundry United Methodist Church; also Dec. 7 and 14. $21-$46.
The third-annual GRUMP makers market turns ZooLights into more than a colorful seasonal display: It’s a place to shop for gifts — stuffed animals, prints, jewelry, onesies — from dozens of local vendors. Dec. 6-8 at the National Zoo. Free.
Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” turned 25 this year, and the pop diva is celebrating her entry into the modern Christmas canon with a brief tour that will feature that holiday hit, tracks from her “Merry Christmas” album and a few of her biggest nonseasonal songs. 8 p.m. at the Theater at MGM National Harbor; also Dec. 10. $199.95-$500.95.
If you’ve never heard “The First Noel” performed by a wall of festively decorated tubas, euphoniums and sousaphones, you don’t know what you’re missing. The 46-year-old Merry TubaChristmas is a feel-good holiday tradition that offers throaty brass instruments a rare chance to take center stage. (Musicians are invited to bring their instruments and perform; those who don’t play are welcome to sing along.) 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Free.
More than 1 million lights decorate the outdoor gardens and paths at Wheaton’s Brookside Gardens, creating holiday scenes so popular that there can be waits of more than an hour on weekends. Make the kids happier (and save your sanity) by visiting on a weeknight, when it’s easier to pose for photos and get close to the model train display in the conservatory. Nov.29-Dec. 31 (closed Dec. 24-25) at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton. $25-$35 per vehicle.
With a 20-foot tree and a gingerbread Jefferson Memorial, the lobby of the Willard InterContinental is one of the most atmospheric settings in Washington. It’s even more special when high school choirs and professional vocal ensembles fill the space with carols during 5:30 p.m. performances. Grab a seasonal drink from the Off the Record bar and settle in. Dec. 1-23 at the Willard InterContinental. Free.
Trombonist, crooner and journalist Eric Felten will lead his jazz orchestra through Duke Ellington’s big-band arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” at the annual Blues Alley performances. 10 p.m. at Blues Alley; also Dec. 10. $35.
Jazz pianist Christopher Linman performs during happy hour (5:30-8 p.m.) at the St. Regis. Bring the kids to write a letter to Santa (he promises to reply) or sip hot cocoa by the fire, and stick around for the 6 p.m. sabering of a champagne bottle, with free bubbly provided to guests. Wednesdays through Fridays from Dec. 4 to 27 at the St. Regis. Free.
For the last nine years, Pizzeria Paradiso’s seasonal Give a Can, Get a Can promotion has encouraged Washington beer lovers to help the less fortunate. Bring a canned good for Martha’s Table, such as canned salmon or vegetables, and a bartender will give you a can of craft beer. Bring two canned goods and get two beers, and so on. It’s a delicious way to get into the holiday spirit. 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. at Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont; also Dec. 20 at Pizzeria Paradiso Hyattsville. Free.
Mount Vernon is known for its holiday candlelight tours, but it’s not the only historic home that does so. Tudor Place — a Georgetown mansion owned by Martha Washington’s granddaughter — opens its doors for after-hours tours and refreshments. This year’s decorations were inspired by celebrations at the house in 1899. 6-7:30 p.m. at Tudor Place; also Dec. 11, 17 and 19. $15-$25.
The Alexandria Community Band has been around for 107 years, but one of its most popular events only began in 2017: a night of caroling with the all-volunteer band in Del Ray. 7:30-9 p.m. at Del Ray United Methodist Church. Free.
It makes sense that America’s Sailing Capital prefers to celebrate Christmas on the water, as boats decorated with glowing reindeer, palm trees, Grinches and, last year, the Abominable Snowman spend hours slowly circling Spa Creek and Annapolis Harbor. 6-8 p.m. at Annapolis Harbor and Spa Creek. Free.
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C., promises “more sparkle than ever” for this year’s performances of its annual holiday show, which features disco dancers, Santa and a seven-foot-tall Christmas tree wearing heels. The set list includes old classics (“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”) and new entries into the holiday canon (“What a Gay Ol’ Christmas Tree”). 3 p.m. at the Lincoln Theatre; also Dec. 7 and 14. $25-$65.
The German vocal quintet Calmus offers traditional holiday songs from all over the world, as well as several translations of “Silent Night.” 3:30 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art West Building, in the West Garden Court. Free.
After taking over baseball stadiums in Seattle and Arlington, Tex., Enchant makes its D.C. debut by filling Nationals Park with a Christmas-themed light maze, a 100-foot tree, an ice skating trail, a holiday market and visits with Santa. (Organizers say you should plan to spend at least two hours.) Through Dec. 29 at Nationals Park. $14.99-$33.99 general admission, $54.99-$88.99 season passes.
How many relationships (or friendships) have been saved by someone remembering to pick up a last-minute gift at this 15-year-old holiday market? Browse a mix of framed photographs, knitwear, glass and jewelry while musicians play and vendors sell hot mini-doughnuts and mulled cider. Through Dec. 23 (closed Nov. 28) on F Street NW between Seventh and Ninth streets. Free.
Take a long lunch and enjoy the sounds of the season at the historic church’s annual Christmas concert, led by organist and director of music Jinsun Cho. 12:10 p.m. at the Church of the Epiphany. Free.
“Hairspray” director and Baltimore’s resident weirdo John Waters explores the holiday season from his offbeat perspective at the Birchmere. Waters rewrites his raunchy Christmas comedy show annually and is calling this season’s performance “It’ll Stuff Your Turkey.” 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere. $55.
Shayna Blass is a D.C.-bred singer, actress and dancer who, since relocating to New York, has appeared in “Broad City” and “Mr. Robot.” The former star of Theater J’s “Yentl” will bring her soulful, jazzy music to the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage for a special Hanukkah show a few days before the holiday begins. 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Free.
This holiday show from Step Afrika features special guest DJ Frosty the Snowman in a high-energy spectacle of music and dance that rides on the irresistible rhythms of rap and jazz. A half-hour before showtime, patrons can decorate a musical instrument in the lobby, then use it to join in the music-making with the performers. 7:30 p.m. at Atlas Performing Arts Center; also Dec. 12-15 and Dec. 20-22. $25-$45.
D.C. jazz outfit Funky Miracle will put an old-school soul and New Orleans funk twist on holiday classics. 8 p.m. at Pearl Street Warehouse. Free.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is traditionally served on Christmas Eve, but you can partake of this Italian-American meal at the cozy Iron Gate restaurant Dec. 9-23. Chef Tony Chittum’s three-course menu reimagines the feast with oak-grilled swordfish steaks and Chesapeake rockfish fritters among the dishes. Make it a date, though: The menu is served family style with a two-person minimum. Dec. 9-23 at Iron Gate. $75 per person.
Opera On Tap’s monthly mission is to have talented singers bring arias to the masses — except in December, when you’re more likely to hear holiday show tunes, seasonal showstoppers and, last year, “Dick in a Box” in the divey surroundings of the Wonderland Ballroom. 7:30 p.m. at Wonderland Ballroom. Free.
Every year, the National Symphony Orchestra offers a different version of Handel’s beloved classic — alternating, generally, between the leaner forces of the historically informed performance movement and versions that feature the massed forces of a modern orchestra. British-born conductor Sir Andrew Davis’s arrangement inclines more to the latter than the former, adding instruments that weren’t within Handel’s compass, though stopping several sizes short of the bombast of some of his forebears. 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center; also Dec. 19, 20 and 22. $15-$99.
The Black Cat’s annual rock-and-roll garage sale is the perfect place to find a last-minute gift for the music fan in your life. Peruse the wares from record dealers, vintage T-shirt sellers and local crafters while the Punk Soul Sisters, Les the DJ, Sally Go Round and DJ Laura Lopez take turns spinning tunes. 4 p.m. at Black Cat. Free.
A D.C. tradition since Jimmy Carter was in the White House, the lighting of the National Menorah — traditionally by an administration official — is celebrated with Hanukkah music performed by the U.S. Marine Band and the Three Cantors, prayer, speeches and, afterward, free latkes and sufganiyot. Free tickets are required for admission. 4 p.m. on the Ellipse. Free.
The AFI Silver Theatre has an extensive holiday program Dec. 6-23, but fans of seasonal cinema will want to save seats for Dec. 22, when historian Jeremy Arnold, author of Turner Classic Movies’ “Christmas in the Movies: 30 Classics to Celebrate the Season,” will be hosting a book talk and free screening of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” 4:30 p.m. at AFI Silver Theatre. Free.
One of the most joyous and high-spirited events of the holiday season, this perennially popular event allows anyone — well, anyone who can score a free ticket — to join a 200-person chorus belting out Handel’s “Messiah” while the Opera House Orchestra performs. Tickets are given away beginning at 4:30 p.m.; the queue begins much earlier. 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Free.
Here’s a new way to look at an old museum: A free, 90-minute lecture revisits the Christmas story through the use of works in the National Gallery’s permanent collection, including paintings by Botticelli and Fra Angelico. 1 p.m. at the National Gallery of Art West Building; also Dec. 17, 19, 20 and 24. Free.
Santa first traded his sled for water skis in 1986, and he remains the centerpiece of one of Washington’s longest-running Christmas Eve traditions — along with kneeboarding reindeer and a Grinch on a Jet Ski. Watch anywhere along the Old Town waterfront, and then head to the Torpedo Factory afterward for a family-friendly meet-and-greet. 1 p.m. at the Old Town Alexandria waterfront. Free.
Most of Washington shuts down on Christmas Day. But if you want to get out of the house for more than a Chinese dinner and a movie, head to the U.S. Botanic Garden, where you can examine models of American public gardens made from plant material as part of the Botanic Garden’s annual model train exhibit. Nov. 28-Jan. 5 at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Free.
The holiday spirit doesn’t leave the Gaylord National after Christmas: There’s still time to see the interactive sculptures of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (carved from 2 million pounds of ice), go tubing down a two-story slide, ride on a train or skate on the hotel’s new outdoor ice rink. Through Dec. 30 at the Gaylord National. Prices vary.
On the first day of Kwanzaa, Creative Suitland — a new arts center from the organization behind Joe’s Movement Emporium — brings the community together for storytelling, drumming, dance performances and a talk by local educator Brother Victorious. 5-9 p.m. at Creative Suitland Arts Center. Free.
Sababa’s modern Israeli menu will get even more interesting in late December, when the Cleveland Park restaurant adds a prix fixe three-course special in honor of Hanukkah. Think potato latkes topped with Hawaii-spiced apples or pastrami and sauerkraut; beef brisket with winter squash tabbouleh and muhammara; and chocolate hazelnut gelt with gold luster dust. The meal is available nightly when the restaurant is open, except on Christmas Eve, when the restaurant offers — what else? — a menu of Chinese-inspired specials. Dec. 22-30 at Sababa. $45.
The Melvin and the Deal African Heritage Dancers and Drummers are the stars of a lively interactive program at the Anacostia Community Museum’s annual Kwanzaa celebration, followed by family art workshops. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at THEARC. Free.
The National Capital Trolley Museum has an advantage over the competition: In addition to scale model trolleys moving around a seasonal scene in its Winter Wonder Garden, the museum also has full-size trolleys for visitors to ride. Saturdays and Sundays Dec.7-29 at the National Capital Trolley Museum. $8-$10.
This free annual train display, located in a historic firehouse, highlights the heritage of the Baltimore’s blue-collar Highlandtown neighborhood. Even casual visitors will spot Patterson Park’s pagoda or just enjoy watching the trains whiz through the animated street scenes. Nov. 30-Jan. 5 at Engine House No.41 in Baltimore. Free.
Influential Chicago comedy troupe the Second City parodies the love-it-or-hate-it modern holiday film “Love, Actually” (and other seasonal rom-coms of note) in this partially scripted, partially ad-libbed comedy show, which returns after premiering last year at the Kennedy Center. Dec. 3-29 at the Kennedy Center. $49-$79.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kensington is in the midst of a two-year renovation, but it will still glow with more than 400,000 lights. Free nightly performances at the Temple’s visitors center — which require tickets from Eventbrite — showcase choirs, bell ringers and musicians from around the region. Dec. 5-31 at Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Free.
Jewish comedian Jessica Kirson will premiere her new Bill Burr-produced Comedy Central stand-up special “Talking to Myself” on Dec. 6, a few weeks before she headlines the DC Improv’s Festival of Laughs comedy show. Kirson, who is Zach Braff’s stepsister, will share the stage on the final night of Hanukkah with fellow comics Adam Ray and Josh Adam Meyers. 7:30 p.m. at DC Improv. $18.
Organized holiday lights are usually the preserve of downtown shopping districts. This year, though, merchants in Park View and Petworth are getting in on the action. Businesses along Georgia Avenue NW and the restaurant-heavy 800 block of Upshur Street NW are decorating their storefronts, including Looking Glass Lounge, Walls of Books and Yoga Heights, and members of the public can cast ballots for their favorite displays. Dec. 1-31 on Georgia Avenue NW between Upshur Street and Barry Place. Free.
All-ages First Night celebrations are great for families who want to welcome the New Year together. Old Town Alexandria’s long-running First Night spreads out at more than two dozen venues across the city, with music, magicians and a talent show, while kids have their own dedicated venues and performers. At midnight, fireworks are launched along the Potomac River. (Most events require tickets; parents are free with paid admission for kids.) Annapolis splits its free New Year’s activities: One session of games, obstacle courses and kids-rock bands starts at 3 p.m. and ends with fireworks at 5:30; the second round, held at the City Dock, kicks off at 8 p.m. with music and dancing, concluding with midnight fireworks.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect name for this year’s edition of John Waters’s Christmas comedy show. This version has been updated.
Anne Midgette and Sarah L. Kaufman contributed to this story. Illustration by Daniel Liévano for The Washington Post.