But this year, the National Christmas Tree’s lights will switched on during an online ceremony. There’s no “Messiah” at the Kennedy Center. Ford’s Theatre’s stage will be dark and empty.
Don’t worry: The coronavirus, like the Grinch, can’t steal the true spirit of the season. We may admire colorful light displays from the safety of our cars, or watch the Rat King leap across our television screens, but there is no shortage of opportunities to feel merry and bright. For every day from Black Friday to Christmas Day, we’ve found at least one seasonal experience taking place virtually or in real life. To make celebrating even easier, many of the virtual events are available for more than one night, in case they conflict with a work holiday party on Zoom — or you need an excuse to duck out early. (Even in a pandemic, some things never change.)
* Events marked with an asterisk take place in person.
Now in its 16th year, the popular Penn Quarter shopping destination has expanded to encourage social distancing. F Street NW has been blocked off between Seventh and Ninth streets to make room for 60 vendors, including booths focusing on local fashion designers and Black- and minority-owned businesses. Noon to 8 p.m. through Dec. 23 (closed Nov. 26 and 30, Dec. 7 and 14). Entrance in front of the National Portrait Gallery, Eighth and F streets NW. Free.
The annual Mount Vernon by Candlelight is canceled this year, but you can still visit the festively lit grounds of George Washington’s estate, listening to carolers, watching interactive demonstrations, and meeting Aladdin the Camel — yes, Washington once rented a camel to entertain Christmas guests — and a troupe of Revolutionary War reenactors. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 27-29 and Dec. 11-13 and 26-28. 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy., Mount Vernon. $25-$45.
Even if you’ve lost track of the number of times you’ve seen “Elf” and “A Christmas Story,” it’s still fun to gather around a crackling fire and watch them on a 20-foot screen. The $60 ticket to the Wharf’s outdoor holiday film series gets you up to four Adirondack chairs arranged around a private fire pit, and you can order food and drinks from the waterfront Cantina Bambina. A different classic movie is shown every weekend, starting with “Home Alone” from Nov. 27-29, and then every day from Dec. 26 to 31. Screenings on Fridays (6 p.m.), Saturdays (2 and 6 p.m.) and Sundays (2 p.m.) through Dec. 20. 970 Wharf St. SW. $60.
While Pentagon Row is home to the largest outdoor ice rink in Northern Virginia, it can still get a little busy on weekends, thanks to skating lessons and group outings, as well as a restricted capacity that only allows 50 people at once. Visit on a weeknight for an experience as smooth as freshly Zambonied ice, and hit a nearby restaurant for happy hour after. Open daily through March. 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington. $9-$10, $5 skate rental.
It’s no secret that small businesses have suffered during the pandemic. A dozen neighborhood Main Street organizations in the District have joined forces to encourage residents to get out and explore shops and restaurants during the holiday season. Stroll one of the festively decorated strips, including Georgia Avenue, Mount Pleasant and Logan Circle, for discounts and participate in a scavenger hunt, then cast your vote for the neighborhood with the most spirit. Through Dec. 31. Free.
Many people feel extra generous at this time of year, and so do bars. Since 2011, Pizzeria Paradiso has held fundraisers for local nonprofit Martha’s Table. Give a Can, Get a Can is the most popular: Bring a can of low-sodium pasta sauce, vegetables or salmon (among other items) to any of the popular Neapolitan pizza restaurant’s locations on Dec. 2, and you can trade it for a can of beer to take home. Two cans are good for two beers, but customers do need to purchase a food item to help Paradiso meet legal requirements. It’s a delicious way to do good for others. Locations in Dupont Circle, Georgetown, Spring Valley and Hyattsville. Free.
The first National Christmas Tree at the White House was lit by President Calvin Coolidge in 1923. (The current specimen isn’t that old — the Colorado blue spruce was transplanted to the Ellipse last fall.) This year’s official lighting ceremony is taking place online, but the public can still visit the tree, and the 56 smaller trees representing states, territories and the District, in person through December. Available for streaming at thenationaltree.org. Free.
The U.S. Army Band will post new videos on Friday afternoons through Dec. 18 as part of its American Holiday Festival. Different ensembles and styles of music are featured each week, but one of the most intriguing finds legendary jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and percussionist Pedrito Martinez lending Cuban flair to a program of jazz and holiday music performed by the 18-piece U.S. Army Blues band. Available for streaming starting at 4 p.m. at usarmyband.com. Free.
A holiday extravaganza like no other, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s annual cabaret blends traditional choral works, finger-snapping a cappella, high-kicking dance routines and saucy seasonal novelty tunes into a show that balances quiet and beautiful moments with laugh-out-loud production numbers. This year’s virtual offering, which includes greatest hits from the group’s previous shows, features an at-home singalong. Available for streaming Dec. 5-20 at gmcw.org. $25.
The Washington Ballet isn’t staging a full version of “The Nutcracker” this year, but it is keeping a favorite tradition alive: an afternoon tea for the ballet’s youngest fans. The Sugar Plum Fairy and the Dew Drop Fairy make appearances in a special video, which features excerpts from the 2019 staging of “The Nutcracker” at the Warner Theatre; a make-at-home Nutcracker craft project; and a special “live” performance. (A list of the supplies for the craft project will be posted on the Ballet’s website and social media.) “We’re encouraging people to have fun and spend a nice afternoon together, as if we were all at the Willard in our Sunday finest,” says the Washington Ballet’s Karen Shepherd. Available for streaming starting at 3 p.m. through the end of the month on Washington Ballet’s YouTube channel. Free.
On most nights, visitors to the Symphony of Lights in Columbia admire the animated displays of more than 300,000 bulbs from the warmth of their cars, driving the one-mile course while listening to seasonal music. Not on Dec. 7, though, when customers are allowed to walk on a path through the lights with their leashed dogs. (Festive costumes are encouraged for both humans and canines.) 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., with admission at 10-minute intervals. 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia. $10. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
The Church of the Epiphany can’t hold concerts in its historic downtown building, but that hasn’t stopped the church’s long-running lunchtime concert series. Performances by musicians and vocalists are filmed in the church, with stained glass windows serving as a backdrop, and posted to the church’s YouTube channel at 12:10 p.m. on Tuesdays, when concerts traditionally begin. This performance finds the Epiphany Choir paired with the baroque ensemble Modern Musick for a program that includes pieces by Henry Purcell, David Willcocks and Bolivian baroque composers. Available for streaming starting at 12:10 p.m. at epiphanydc.org. Free.
A colorful spray of flowers makes any home feel instantly festive. Learn the secrets of holiday decor from Ami Wilber, the floral designer at the Hillwood Estate, during a Zoom seminar and Q&A session. Work with blooms and greenery you’ve gathered yourself, or preorder a package of materials that includes roses, carnations and winter greens that can be picked up at Hillwood before the program. (Note: This class repeats on Dec. 11.) 6:30 p.m. at hillwoodmuseum.org. $12; $72 with materials.
The First Night of Hanukkah
Expect Hanukkah celebrations to be socially distanced and muted this year. Washington is home to two large menorah displays — the National Menorah on the Ellipse, which is scheduled to be lit in a ceremony beginning at 4 p.m., and a menorah at the Wharf’s District Square, lit between 5 and 6 p.m. each night during the Festival of Lights. Those who would rather not go to a public lighting can join the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, and the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington for 8 Nights of Lights, a virtual nightly lighting ceremony (5:30 p.m., free). At Sixth and I, the Count Every Night virtual party on Dec. 10 includes Hanukkah songs, games and a menorah lighting, as well as socializing — recipes for Hanukkah cocktails are provided (7 p.m., $12).
Universal Pictures passed on the Coen Brothers’ “Bad Santa” after reading the script, which they described as “the most foul, disgusting, misogynistic, anti-Christmas, anti-children thing we could imagine,” according to eventual producer Bob Weinstein. No wonder the story of an alcoholic safecracker who doubles as a mall Santa has become a cult classic. “Bad Santa” plays at Park Up DC, the pop-up drive-in theater located in an RFK Stadium parking lot, on Dec. 11 and 17. If your tastes run to more traditional feel-good holiday fare, “This Christmas” is featured on Dec. 12. 9:10 p.m. 2400 East Capitol St. NE . $29-$45.
If you find yourself staying in more during the holidays, you might find yourself in a cocktail rut, making the same old drinks again and again. Let the annual D.C. Holiday Cocktail Seminar introduce you to a few new and classic beverages, whipped up by some of D.C.’s most talented bartenders and ambassadors for spirits brands. Hosted by author Philip Greene, this is as easy as it gets: On Friday afternoon, you pick up six premixed cocktails in individual pouches from Last Call, near Union Market. Then, during the event, as the mixologists demonstrate and discuss their seasonal cocktails on screen, you just sit back and sip. (Greene says that some cocktails may involve shaking or heating the liquid, but nothing more complicated than that.) Note: A version of this event with a different set of bartenders takes place on Dec. 11. 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tickets available via eventbrite.com. $50.
Each first lady puts her own spin on the White House’s holiday decor, which has included trees decorated with “Nutcracker”-themed ornaments, military patches and wooden folk art. In this online presentation, organized by Smithsonian Associates, historian and author Coleen Christian Burke discusses how themes have been selected in different administrations, as well as the role first pets have played. 10 a.m. to noon at smithsonianassociates.org. $25-$30.
“A Christmas Carol” has been the featured seasonal entertainment at Ford’s Theatre since 1979, and while it’s not possible for audiences to pack into the seats to watch Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and the ghosts, Ford’s isn’t giving up on Dickens yet. Instead of filming the play, Ford’s has adapted the story into a one-hour radio play, with actor Craig Wallace reprising his frequent stage role as Scrooge. Members of Ford’s Theatre can hear the broadcast starting Dec. 7, while the public can listen beginning Dec. 14. Available for streaming Dec. 7 through Jan. 1 at fords.org. Free.
Though the U.S. Botanic Gardens’ popular Season’s Greenings train display won’t be unpacked this year, the tradition of having live music on Tuesday evenings continues. In celebration of Hanukkah, the featured performer is Arianne Brown, the senior cantor at Adas Israel in Cleveland Park. Brown has performed in “Fiddler on the Roof” and “The Fantastiks”; sung at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center; and released a CD of Yiddish love songs. 5:30 p.m. at usbg.gov. Free.
Is your TV big enough to hold Step Afrika!’s Magical Musical Holiday Show? The local dance troupe mixes stepping, a form of dance driven by stomping and clapping, with African dance, hip-hop and marching band precision. Its annual holiday performance, with propulsive rhythms and audience participation dances, is one of the most energetic and inspiring in town. Step Afrika brings the show to YouTube and Facebook Live free this year, with performances by DJ Frosty the Snowman and mascots Popper the penguin and Pinky and Polo the polar bear twins. Available for streaming starting at 7:30 p.m. through Jan. 1 at stepafrika.org. Free.
Archipelago’s annual transformation into a Christmas-themed surf shack has been overshadowed by other holiday bars in recent years, but it’s time for the U Street tiki bar to shine. The owners closed the bar before Thanksgiving to revamp the patio, creating more covered, heated outdoor seating. The focus will remain on cocktails heavy on dark rum and fruit juices, though punched up with nutmeg or ginger spices, and you’ll be able to drink the concoctions from ceramic mugs showing hula-dancing reindeer or Santa wearing flip-flops and shades. Archipelago’s owners are cognizant that not everyone wants to eat and drink outdoors at the moment, so they plan to offer cocktail boxes featuring the seasonal beverages, including themed tiki glasses, for takeout and delivery. Starts Dec. 1. 1201 U St. NW. Cocktail prices vary.
One of the longest nights of the year is the perfect excuse for Smithsonian at 8 to host an after-hours party. The group has planned a full slate of virtual activities mimicking its popular in-person gatherings, including stargazing with the George Mason University Observatory; a curator talk about how various cultures mark the solstice; workshops on making cocktails and assembling cheeseboards; team trivia; and music by DJ Trayze. (A list of cocktail ingredients will be provided in advance, and participants have the option of ordering cheeseboard supplies from Brightwood’s Cheesemonster Studio.) 7:30 to 11 p.m. at smithsonianassociates.org. $12 until Nov. 28, then $15.
While families won’t pack the Filene Center to sing merrily with local choral groups and “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band this year, Wolf Trap is helping replicate the experience at home. The streaming broadcast includes prerecorded performances by the Marine Band, and singalong versions of carols and Hanukkah songs. (A different virtual performance will take place on Dec. 5.) 4 p.m. at wolftrap.org. Free.
The Cathedral Choral Society has been hosting its “Joy of Christmas” concerts at Washington National Cathedral since 1976, and that experience shows in the program, which was recorded live at the Cathedral: There are crowd-pleasers, including “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” sung by a 20-person chorus; quartets performing the 16th century “Coventry Carol” and Holst’s 20th century arrangement of “In the Bleak Midwinter”; and a solo organ version of the spiritual “Go Tell it on the Mountain.” Available for streaming starting at 3 p.m. at cathedralchoralsociety.org. Free.
While the Kennedy Center has canceled most in-person performances through April 25, a trio of concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra are being recorded in the Concert Hall in December. The one to note is the annual NSO Holiday Pops program, conducted by Steven Reineke: Prior years have included “All I Want for Christmas is You” and “Jingle Bell Rock” alongside freshly arranged standards. The concert takes place on Dec. 18, and will be posted on the Kennedy Center’s website the following day. Available for streaming starting Dec. 19 at kennedy-center.org. Free.
The virtual holiday program by the Folger Shakespeare Library’s early-music ensemble includes Bach’s Cantata No. 140 (“Wachet auf,” or “Sleepers Wake”), a selection of seasonal works by 17th Century German composer Michael Praetorius, and a mix of English and American traditional carols, performed with strings, woodwinds and a vocal quartet. Available for streaming Dec. 11 through Jan. 5. at folger.edu. $25-$50.
Paul Morella really immerses himself in “A Christmas Carol” during the holiday season: Not only did he adapt and direct this one-man performance, he portrays dozens of characters throughout. He has brought Dickens’s tale to life at Olney since 2010, and this year, it’s available to purchase and watch “as many times as you like” at home. Available for streaming Dec. 15 through Jan. 3 at olneytheatre.org. $15-$20.
Staging “The Nutcracker” during a pandemic presents a number of challenges. For the Manassas Ballet Theatre, which is releasing a recording of its annual production, it’s a numbers game. For social distancing reasons, a maximum of 20 dancers can be onstage at George Mason’s Hylton Performing Arts Center at the same time, so artistic director Amy Wolf had to modify the staging, cutting the number of snowflakes in half. Rehearsals presented their own problems, but some of the paired dancers are husband-and-wife duos or live in the same household, which allows them to practice in close contact. Still, Wolf is excited for the company, which will release two versions with different casts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Viewers from as far as Australia and Italy have tuned in for other performances, and Wolf plans to make all of the company’s shows available online in the future. Available for streaming for 30 days starting at 7:30 p.m. at manassasballet.org. $25.
Let Washington National Cathedral’s 10,547-pipe organ provide the soundtrack to your Christmas Day, whether you’re opening presents, preparing lunch, or just settling in for a quiet afternoon. Organists Thomas Sheehan and George Fergus present an hour-long program of festive melodies. Noon to 1 p.m. at cathedral.org. Free.