In Washington, the holiday season exudes tradition. Towering trees and menorahs light up against the backdrop of the White House and the Capitol, wreaths and garlands line granite halls and carolers spread tidings in the streets.

Between office party overload and frenzied supermarket sweeps, it’s all too easy to let the holidays come and go without feeling so much as a twinge of the good cheer. So let this be the year you embrace them.

Turn off your cellphone, turn up the Duke Ellington and revel in the ritual before yet another December flies by in a blur of tinsel and colored lights. Plan a date night, a family outing or an excursion with out-of-town friends to make gingerbread houses, sip holiday cocktails and see one of the nation’s loveliest trees. Here are four festive itineraries, some happening as early as Saturday, to carry you all the way through to the new year.


Get crafty while satiating your sweet tooth and then settle in for some holiday jazz.

Take a gingerbread-decorating class for adults at the Fairmont

At the Fairmont hotel, gingerbread is serious business. Head pastry chef Rebecca Kinsella, who has baked at the White House, leads a gingerbread-decorating class for adults Dec. 11. Participants get a pre-constructed gingerbread train to adorn with a sugary smorgasbord that beats the pants off standard gumdrops. Expect French macarons for wheels and miniature passengers made of marzipan.

While you work, sip cocktails, nibble on hors d’oeuvres and gaze out on the Crystal Garden with its lighted trees and reindeer. Kinsella will help make your gingerbread train a first-class creation. And don’t worry about getting your masterpiece home; the Fairmont will deliver it to D.C. residents the next day.

Dec. 11 at 6:30 p.m. The Fairmont, 2401 M St. NW. 202-457-5019. $85, reservations required.

See Duke Ellington’s ‘Nutcracker Suite’ at Blues Alley

For 18 years, the Eric Felten Jazz Orchestra’s annual Christmas show has had audiences tapping their toes to swinging holiday classics. The highlight is a full-length rendition of Duke Ellington’s “Nutcracker Suite,” which Ellington arranged with jazz composer Billy Strayhorn and recorded in 1960. This is an opportunity to see a 16-piece big band in the small listening room draped with garlands and lights.

Dec. 11 at 8 and 10 p.m. Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-337-4141. $25. Note: The 8 p.m. show is sold out, but a limited number of tickets will be sold at the door.


Gather your visitors and see the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree before admiring wintry foliage and gorging on Italian comfort food.

Visit the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree

Let’s face it, last year’s misshapen National Christmas Tree replacement (after the first one fell in high winds) left something to be desired. Instead of heading to the Ellipse, opt for the 70-foot-tall Engelmann spruce gracing the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. The tree, which hails from Colorado’s White River National Forest, has just concluded an epic, Olympic-torch-style road trip. More than 7,000 ornaments handmade by Colorado schoolchildren trim the tree.

Tree-lighting ceremony, Tuesday at 5 p.m. U.S. Capitol West Lawn. www.capitol
. Free; visitors must pass through security to enter.

Have fun with foliage at the Botanic Gardens

Another Washington favorite, this year’s “Season’s Greenings” display has an indoor Christmas tree, more than 15 types of poinsettias — including several heirloom varieties you won’t find in most nurseries — and the ever-popular train display, where model trains wind their way through fairy dwellings. The music lineup is particularly promising. After the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting Tuesday, catch an Irish rock show by 40 Thieves.

Through Jan 1. Music: Tuesdays and Thursdays in December at 6 p.m.
100 Maryland Ave. SW. 202-225-8333. Free.

Enjoy your company at an Italian dinner

From the intimate dining room to the hearty Italian menu, there’s something quintessentially Christmas about Eastern Market’s Acqua al 2. The restaurant is decked with poinsettias, lights and a tree for the season. Beginning Dec. 10, the bar serves a winter cocktail menu and sells panettone, the Italian holiday confection, to take home.

212 Seventh St. SE. 202-525-4375. Panettone: $25
per loaf.


Between the glittering ornaments, the uplifting harmonies of live choirs and piping-hot cocktails, this trip is a heartwarmer for those in search of a classic Christmas.

Raise the roof — and a glass — with gospel brunch at the Hamilton

The faithful and the bleary-eyed break bread side by side on Sunday mornings at the Hamilton, where the soulful voices of a choir entertain brunchers each week. The buffet is pure Southern indulgence, but the real attraction is the inspirational sounds.

Sundays at 10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.
600 14th St. NW. 202-787-1000. $30 a person; includes buffet and one cocktail.

Surround yourself with history at the Willard

Cross the street to the Willard InterContinental, which has observed the holidays in grand fashion since 1986. Grab a spiked warmer such as the Harrison’s Spiced Apple Cider ($15) from the Round Robin bar, and tour the ornate Beaux-Arts building, where columns are encircled in greenery and ornaments and small trees line the halls. Then, behold the Willard’s grand 14-foot tree, which will be dotted with more than 300 official White House Christmas ornaments from the past 30 years. The collectibles are issued each year by the White House Historical Association; look out for this year’s trinket, a charming classic car that symbolizes the Taft White House, the first to embrace the automobile.

Through early January at 1401
Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-628-9100.
. Free.

Step back in time at the DAR Open House

If you want to see lights at night, visit the Willard on Wednesday evening and then head to the DAR Christmas Open House. Ten rooms will be outfitted in period holiday decorations, each representing a different era in U.S. history. Don’t miss the 1960s room, complete with an aluminum tree.

Cookies and hot cocoa abound, carolers offer Christmas music and Santa will be available for photos, sans long lines. The decorations stay up through the new year.

Wednesday from 5:30 to 8 p.m. DAR Memorial Continental Hall, 17th and D streets NW. 202-572-0563. Free.


For its 20th anniversary, the Parade of Lighted Boats on Saturday is going all out. In Old Town, do some holiday shopping and watch the brightly appointed boats set sail on Washington’s Southwest waterfront, round up the kids and see the ships (and Santa) arrive at a festival with live music and a bonfire.

Pick up a few holiday gifts

During the day, stroll through Old Town, stopping at such quirky gift shops as cocktail-party mecca the Hour (1015 King St.). Then head for the Art League’s annex, where you’ll find holiday jewelry and ceramics for sale.

Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. 305 Madison St.,
Alexandria. 703-548-8127.

Watch the ships depart

At 4 p.m., take a waterfront stroll to the Torpedo Factory docks, where, as the sun sets after 5 p.m., 30 glowing boats decorated for the season will begin their three-mile journey into the Washington Channel.

Along the District’s Southwest Waterfront, a separate festival will be perfect for kids. Just after dusk at 5:45 p.m., a bonfire will be lighted at the small park at Seventh and Water streets SW, and guests can roast marshmallows, decorate cookies and experience a “snowfall” as the boats roll in about 6:30, all new touches to celebrate the landmark year.

Ships depart Saturday about 5 p.m. from the Torpedo Factory dock, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria. In Washington, events run from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at Seventh and Water streets SW. 202-688-3590. . Free.

More from the 2012 Holiday Guide:

Holiday events and activities

Holiday movie guide

25-cheer inspiring holiday events