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How to survive Dec. 3, the most festive day of the holiday season

Captain Michael Bradford won “best theme” in the 2017 Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. (E Michio for Visit Alexandria)

In a season packed full of fun, Dec. 3 stands out. The sheer breadth of activities on this one Saturday boggles even the most festive souls: When faced with a list lengthier than Santa’s, how do you decide where to go and what to do?

In addition to all the options that last through December — glowing light displays, raucous pop-up bars, leaping nutcrackers, humbug-ing Scrooges — this particular weekend brings some of our favorite one-time-only events of the season. Making a choice can be more fraught than picking out a gift for your mother-in-law: If you decide not to go to a certain parade or concert, you probably won’t have another chance until next year.

We’ll lay it out for you: Here are the day’s top things to do, broken down by category. Some of the markets repeat; many other activities do not. However you choose to spend your Saturday, we hope it’s warm and bright.

A holiday-by-day guide to festive fun in D.C.

Parades and glowing lights

Who doesn’t love a parade? This is the 51st year of the Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk, which brings marching pipe and drum bands, Scottish terrier groups, and antique cars to the streets of Old Town. The unquestioned star of the 120 parade units? That would be a bagpiping Santa Claus. A band concert at Market Square follows. (11 a.m. Free. alxscottishwalk.com.) Scots aren’t the only ones showing off in Alexandria on Saturday: More than 50 boats decorated with holiday lights and props are taking part in the 22nd annual Holiday Boat Parade, sailing up and down a one-mile stretch of the Potomac. The most popular viewing spot is at the base of King Street, where Waterfront Park features a pop-up Port City beer garden and family activities, such as ornament making, beginning at 2 p.m. Tip for parents: Santa arrives by fireboat at 3:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. Free. visitalexandria.com.)

Boats all aglow can be found in D.C. as well as in Virginia. At least 60 watercraft are participating in the Wharf’s annual Holiday Boat Parade along the Southwest Waterfront. It’s a centerpiece of a festival that includes ice skating, visits with Santa, live music, a s’mores station, ornament decorating, a beer garden and, to cap the parade, fireworks. (6 to 9 p.m. Admission free; some events may have a fee. wharfdc.com.)

The House of Sweden brings a taste of Sweden’s annual Lucia celebrations to its front lawn, hosting a traditional Lucia procession on the steps facing the Potomac. One woman represents Saint Lucy, wearing a crown of lit candles, accompanied by a group carrying candles, all singing traditional Swedish carols. (5 p.m. Free. houseofsweden.com.)

The vibe is more traditional at the city of Fairfax’s Festival of Lights and Carols in Old Town Square. Spend the afternoon browsing local vendors, listening to live music, and sampling hot cider and s’mores. The Christmas tree is lit at 5:30 p.m. in a ceremony with singalong carols. (Noon to 6 p.m. Free. fairfaxva.gov.)

City Ridge, the new development in Tenleytown, surrounds the lighting of its first Christmas tree with a festival including family activities, such as face painting, crafts and train rides; live music from carolers and a school choir; photos with Santa; and giveaways from shops, including Tatte and Wegmans. (4 to 8 p.m.; tree lighting at 7 p.m. Free. cityridgedc.com.)

Step back into Annapolis’s past at the William Paca House, where the year is 1772 and Paca has not yet signed the Declaration of Independence or been elected governor of Maryland. During the Colonial Yuletide Celebration, visitors can tour the candlelit mansion, listen to Colonial-era Christmas music, play games and interact with reenactors, and make an ornament. Afterward, head to the nearby “Hogshead Tavern” to hear music, drink cider and learn how common people marked the holidays. (2 to 6 p.m. $7-$12; children age 2 and younger free. annapolis.org.)

Merry melodies

Festive music fills the air across the region on Saturday. The headliner is the in-person return of Wolf Trap’s Holiday Sing-A-Long after two years of virtual performances. Featuring the United States Marine Band and local choir groups, the first-come, first-seated event at the Filene Center features a variety of music, but audience members are asked to bring a candle for the processional during “Silent Night” and a bell for a “Jing-A-Long” during “Jingle Bells.” (4 p.m. Free. wolftrap.org.)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s Holiday Show is a performance like no other: There’s singing and tap dancing, rousing choral ensembles, and intimate pieces from soloists, bopping to “Sleigh Ride” and Dolly Parton’s “Hard Candy Christmas.” There are four performances of the Holiday Show at the Lincoln Theatre this year, with the first two taking place on Saturday. (3 and 8 p.m. $25-$65. gmcw.org.)

Forget ornate concert halls: Washington National Cathedral’s gothic architecture provides a stunning backdrop for performances of Handel’s “Messiah” with the cathedral’s chorus and orchestra. Of the four performances this weekend, two are on Saturday, including the abbreviated “Family Edition,” which focuses on the highlights of Handel’s masterpiece with young audiences in mind. (Noon and 4 p.m. $25-$65. cathedral.org.)

Vocalist Jane Monheit is renowned for her velvety performances of jazz and pop standards — she’s recorded a tribute to the Ella Fitzgerald songbook, and her discography is filled with songs by Gershwin, Jobim, and Rodgers and Hart. Her most recent album, however, features a different genre of timeless tunes, including “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and “Christmas Time Is Here.” Monheit is at Blues Alley all weekend to promote “The Merriest,” including two sets on Saturday. (7 and 9 p.m. $50. bluesalley.org.)

Gifts galore

If you’ve put off finishing your holiday shopping — or feel like it’s time to reward yourself — this is the weekend to do it. The highlight is the Heurich House Christmas Markt, which, in its 10th year, brings more than 40 local makers and artists to the historic Victorian house museum, alongside ornament making workshops for kids and a chance for adults to learn about the revival of Senate Lager. The market opens on Friday night, but Saturday offers the longest hours. (Noon to 8 p.m. $2-$20. heurichhouse.org.) Not far from the Heurich House, the Dupont Circle Holiday Pop-Up brings 120 vendors to locations throughout the neighborhood, including the sidewalks of Connecticut Avenue and the Dupont Underground beneath the Circle. (Noon to 5 p.m. Free. dupontcirclepopup.com.)

Want a shopping experience that feels like a vacation? The Sons of Norway’s annual Norwegian Festival at Norway House in Fairfax is packed with Scandinavian treats, from sweaters to table linens to chocolate, while the menu at the outdoor cafe includes hot dogs and baked goods, as well as cooking demos. Also: You can meet and greet Fjord horses. (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free; reservations required for indoor shopping. norwaydc.org.) The Friends of the German International School create the atmosphere of a German Christmas market at the Potomac school, with vendors selling German ornaments and crafts, stalls offering bratwurst and glühwein, and activities for kids. (11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free. giswashington.org.)

The National Museum of the American Indian already has an interesting store, but the best time to shop is during the museum’s annual Native Art Market. More than 30 artists, representing tribes from across the continent, sell handmade jewelry, baskets, pottery, beadwork and clothing on Saturday and Sunday. (10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free. americanindian.si.edu.)

Those looking for presents for nonhuman good boys and girls should check out the Holiday Barket at Cabin John Regional Park, sponsored by Montgomery Parks. Beyond vendors selling gifts and dog-friendly food, pups can have their photos taken with the Grinch, make a paw print craft, or just run around and sniff in the dog park. (10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free. montgomeryparks.org.)

The National Landing Holiday Market, which features 17 vendors along Crystal City’s 23rd Street Restaurant Row, is the centerpiece of a weekend of activities throughout the neighborhood, including an art show at Fort C.F. Smith Park, the launch of National Landing’s Christmas Tree Lot and a peppermint mocha latte competition between local coffee shops. (Market 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday only. Free. nationallanding.org.)

Here are even more ideas: The annual Leesburg Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Show brings dozens of juried artists to the Ida Lee Park Recreation Center. (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. leesburgva.gov.) Stalls with food, florists, vintage clothing and prints set up at the second weekend of Takoma Park’s Market at the Bank pop-up series. (10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free. marketatthebank.com.) The Friends of the National Arboretum’s annual holiday market takes place Dec. 10, but come a week earlier for a sale featuring Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and greenery. (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free. fona.org.)

Fun for families

As the weather turns colder and excitement about the holiday builds, you might be looking for ways to get the kids out of the house. The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Winter Holiday Family Day is Nutcracker-themed, with a story time, crafts and face painting in the Kogod Courtyard, alongside music from DJ Harry Hotter and a winter-themed scavenger hunt in the museum’s galleries. (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Free; registration required. americanart.si.edu.)

Children might be familiar with Santa’s reindeer and sleigh, but did you know he flies in planes, too? The whole family can greet Saint Nick at the annual Santa Fly-In at College Park Airport and Aviation Museum. Santa arrives between 10 and 10:15 a.m., and there will be crafts and the opportunity to take photos with Santa, though those must be booked separately. (9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. $5; children 2 and younger free. mncppc.org.)

Downtown Bethesda’s Norfolk Avenue Streetery becomes a Winter Wonderland during the city’s annual festival, with a concert featuring student musicians, arts and craft projects, a scavenger hunt, face painting, ice sculpting demos, and the chance to say hello to Santa. Visitors are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots. (1 to 4 p.m. Free. bethesda.org.)

Just do it yourself

Sure, shopping for presents can be fun, but so is creating something with your own hands. Holiday-themed DIY classes often sell out far in advance — sorry, those hoping to go to wreath-making classes at Hillwood or Mount Vernon — but there are a few with spaces available on Saturday afternoon. Cultivate the City, the urban farm that regularly hosts events at Atlas Brew Works, is back at the Ivy City brewery to teach participants how to create “Living Ornaments” — globe-shaped terrariums with succulents, air plants and moss that can hang on a Christmas tree — and how to care for everything inside. The class fee includes basic materials, with add-ons available, and is open to all ages. (1 to 2 p.m. $15. atlasbrewworks.com.)

You might think of Cork as a place to pick up a bottle of wine or to stop in for a charcuterie plate and a glass of red, but the 14th Street shop also hosts an annual workshop dedicated to building and decorating gingerbread houses. With free-flowing hot chocolate, cider and sweets, it makes an easy date activity or family event. Each registration includes a kit and materials for one house, and is limited to two adults or two adults and one child. (10 a.m. to noon. $60. corkdc.com.)

Looking for the final touch that will make a holiday outfit pop? Local artist and jewelry maker Beth Robson leads a holiday polymer clay earrings class at the Shop Made in VA store in Alexandria. Best of all, students should be able to wear their finished earrings home that afternoon. (3 to 5 p.m. $55. shopmadeinva.com.)

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