One of the greatest American holiday traditions is watching our electric bills soar as high as eight tiny reindeer as we ensure that Christmas is literally lit. If you’d rather not be the one up on the ladder, risking life and limb for holiday cheer, there are plenty of area displays to make your days be merry and bright.
National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW; through Jan. 1 (except Dec. 24 & 25), 5-9 p.m., free (ride tickets are $3 each).
In addition to wandering through a forest of environmentally friendly LED lights, activities at this perennial favorite include a train ride that winds around (but not inside!) the Great Cats exhibit, 150-foot-long snowless tubing tracks and the opportunity to see the nocturnal animals actually do stuff in the Small Mammal House, Reptile Discovery Center, Think Tank and Great Cats areas.
Fun fact: The zoo’s carousel — featuring 58 hand-carved animals representing the creatures that have benefited from the zoo’s research and conservation programs — is powered entirely by solar energy.
Light count: More than 500,000
Various locations in Georgetown; Fri.-Jan. 1, 6-10 p.m., free.
Georgetown Glow, back for a third year, isn’t your typical light display — instead, it’s a public art exhibit, with interactive works created by local, national and international artists. This year’s draws include a rideable seesaw, two towers whose lights change when people sing or speak into them, and pivoting prisms that visitors can spin to get them to change color.
Fun fact: At a “silent disco” Dec. 10 from 7 to 10 p.m., “clubgoers” can put on wireless headphones and dance away while listening to one of three different genres of music. The colors on the headphones change based on the genre, so you can see who is awkwardly shuffling along to the same music you are.
Light count: There are eight different installations, so … a lot.
Winter Walk of Lights
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; through Jan. 8, 5:30-10 p.m., $5-$13.
A half-mile walk takes you through the nature-themed displays that light up the gardens; at the end, you’re welcome to thaw out next to the open fire (s’mores kits and other snacks are available for purchase). Kids not distracted by Pokémon Go can complete a scavenger hunt and turn in their completed card for a sticker at the end of the walk.
Fun fact: It takes the forces behind the Winter Walk three months to install all of the lights and displays (and longer if someone didn’t wrap the cords up neatly when putting them away the year before).
Light count: More than 500,000
Festival of Lights
Washington D.C. Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Drive, Kensington, Md.; through Jan. 1, 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (lights illuminated at dusk), free (tickets are required for concerts).
Returning for its 39th year, this celebration at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints temple includes nightly concerts, a display of Christmas trees and creches, and a life-size outdoor Nativity scene. Visitors can wander the temple grounds while trying to figure out how to take good pictures of lights with an iPhone.
Fun fact: Basically every kid who grew up in the D.C. area thought at one point that the temple was Disney World.
Light count: More than 650,000
More D.C. holiday activities