Last year didn’t quite feel like the holidays at all.

We caught up with faraway family members on Zoom instead of over dinner. The Sugar Plum Fairy pirouetted across TV screens. Ford’s Theatre’s “Christmas Carol” played through radio speakers, not on its historic stage. Curious DIY-ers learned to make evergreen wreaths and seasonal cocktails through online classes.

This year marks a startling rebound. Though the pandemic continues, almost every one of Washington’s favorite holiday traditions is back and welcoming in-person visitors, with a few exceptions: the National Zoo’s ZooLights and the Mormon Temple’s light display have been canceled, while Wolf Trap’s Holiday Sing-A-Long is staying virtual. It is truly a Festivus miracle.

Precautions abound: Almost every indoor “Nutcracker,” “Messiah” or holiday concert will require adults to show proof of vaccination. Some events are limiting capacity to prevent crowding. And those cautious about doing things in person, whether because of unvaccinated children or worries about health risks, will find fewer virtual events than last year. (The Smithsonian is a notable exception, keeping many talks and crafting sessions online even with museums open.)

Whether you’re longing for twinkling lights, a festival singalong or a market full of gifts, you’ll find them in this guide, which includes something to do every day between Black Friday and Boxing Day. Please note that many of these events take place on multiple dates, not just the ones on which they’re listed, allowing you to mix and match to build the perfect itinerary. After all, it’s been a while since we could immerse ourselves in the holiday season like this, and we have a lot of catching up to do.

Nov. 26

A maze through a twinkling forest of light-covered trees and enormous seasonal displays, an ice skating trail, a holiday market, a play area for kids and an audience with Santa himself — Enchant fills Nationals Park with all the holiday cheer and goodwill that you’d expect from one of the area’s largest holiday attractions. This year’s theme asks visitors to go on a quest to “save Christmas” while exploring the park — and tucking into some food and drink from local restaurants. Open daily Nov. 26 through Jan. 2. $29-$39; children aged 2 and younger free.

Nov. 27

With George Washington as the heroic nutcracker, a stage bedecked with cherry blossoms, and a Georgetown house party where Frederick Douglass rubs shoulders with modern-day politicos and athletes, the Washington Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker” manages to make the holiday chestnut feel timeless and heartwarmingly local. There are special events throughout the run, including Family Day (Dec. 12), with ornament-making and behind-the-scenes activities before the curtain rises. Proof of vaccination is required to attend this event. Nov. 27-Dec. 26. $46-$146.

Nov. 28

The National Menorah returns to the Ellipse for the annual celebration of the first night of Hanukkah. The ceremony, organized by Chabad, typically features D.C. politicos — President Biden spoke at the lighting in 2014, when he was vice president — as well as the U.S. Navy Band, musical guests and free hot latkes and doughnuts. Reservations are required. 3:15 to 5:45 p.m. Free; registration required.

You might also like: Other Hanukkah celebrations include nightly lightings of menorahs at Union Market and the Wharf through Dec. 6, and a First Night of Hanukkah party at Metrobar in Edgewood on Nov. 28.

Nov. 29

Last year, to encourage social distancing during the pandemic, the organizers of the Downtown Holiday Market moved their winter shopping wonderland off the sidewalks outside the National Portrait Gallery and into the middle of F Street NW between Seventh and Ninth streets. Thankfully, the market is keeping the same spacious footprint in 2021, its 17th season. Makers and artists sell their wares while musicians perform and vendors offer doughnuts, sausages and empanadas. If you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for, it’s worth a repeat visit: More than 70 exhibitors will set up over the course of the market, but a good number will change after Dec. 6. Open daily from Nov. 19 through Dec. 23 (closed Thanksgiving and Dec. 6). Free.

Nov. 30

After a year off, Brookside Gardens has turned into a festive, glowing wonderland for the 23rd season. Visitors wander paths through the 50-acre Wheaton park at their own pace, past more than 1 million LED lights covering tree branches and arches, and shaped into flowers or seamonsters. Plan ahead: Tickets will not be sold at the gate this year. Open daily from Nov. 19 through Jan. 2 (closed Nov. 22-25 and Dec. 24-25). $10; children aged 3 and younger free.

Dec. 1

Unlike the National Christmas Tree, the Capitol Christmas Tree — known as “The People’s Tree” — isn’t a permanent fixture. Each year, a new tree is selected from a different national forest. This year’s specimen, an 84-foot white fir, hails from California’s Six Rivers National Forest and made its way to the Capitol’s West Lawn after a whistle-stop tour of the country. The tree, decorated with ornaments made by residents from the tree’s home state, is traditionally lit by the House speaker, and is on display nightly through New Year’s Day. Before visiting the tree, stop into the U.S. Botanic Garden next door, which has a large outdoor model train setup (open daily except Christmas) and a display of poinsettias visible in its windows. 5 p.m. Open daily Dec. 1 through Jan. 1. Free.

Dec. 2

Ivy and Coney’s pop-up Hanukkah Bar started as a joke — a riff on the popular Miracle on Seventh Street bar a few blocks north. But over the years, Chai-vy and Cohen-y has become a fixture, thanks to dreidel-spinning contests, a menu heavy on Manischewitz and shots that taste like sufganiyot, and the Shotnorah, an oversized menorah that allows up to eight customers to simultaneously take shots together. (“The year 5782, what a time to be alive!” the bar says.) It’s not all kitsch, though: During Hanukkah, the Shaw bar slows down each night at 7:30 p.m. to light an actual menorah. Latkes, made using bar co-owner Josh Saltzman’s family recipe, are served with a choice of sour cream or applesauce. And proceeds from the sale of Manischewitz products are donated to Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to support refugees. Proof of vaccination is required for entry. Nov. 28 through December. Free.

Dec. 3

The annual German-style Christmas market in the walled garden of the historical Heurich House Museum in Dupont Circle is expanding this year, taking over part of the grounds along New Hampshire Avenue NW to make room for additional local makers — 35 in all. Sip spiced gluhwein or a glass of Senate Beer, the re-created version of a Heurich Brewing favorite from the early 20th century, while browsing tents full of jewelry, cards, candles, chocolate and other giftable treats. (This year’s new “Christmas Cheer” ticket includes an adult beverage as well as admission.) There are crafts and games for children on Saturday and Sunday, as well as food trucks. 4 to 8 p.m. Also Dec. 4 from noon to 8 p.m., and Dec. 5 from noon to
6 p.m. $2-$19.

Dec. 4

Many towns host holiday parades, but few do it like Middleburg, the historic and tony town that is the capital of Loudoun County’s horse country. The mile-long procession down Main Street includes floats, bands, antique firetrucks, dogs and Santa in a horse-drawn coach. Get there early for the Hunt and Hounds Review, which features more than 100 nattily dressed fox-hunt riders on horseback. Throughout the day, there’s a craft fair, activities for children and “Spirits of Middleburg,” with food and drink tastings at restaurants, breweries, distilleries and wineries. This year, parking is limited and reservations must be made in advance. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free; parking $30-$50.

Dec. 5

The National Christmas Tree has been a fixture on the Ellipse since 1923, when President Calvin Coolidge lit the first decorated tree, accompanied by performances from a choir and members of the Marine Band. This year’s ceremony — hosted by LL Cool J and featuring musical guests H.E.R., Juanes and Chris Stapleton — takes place on Dec. 2, but the tree site opens to the public on Dec. 4, along with the surrounding trees marking states and territories, and CBS is airing the lighting ceremony on Dec. 5. Open daily Dec. 4 through Jan. 1. Free.

Dec. 6

The Willard Hotel’s lobby is one of the most festive spaces in Washington during the holiday season, thanks to a giant tree covered in lights, pots of poinsettias and the joyful sounds of carols. Each night, the lobby plays host to a different group of singers: high school ensembles, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, church choirs, the German-speaking Washington Saengerbund. On Dec. 6, the featured artists are the early-music ensembles Carmina and Illuminare, whose repertoire includes medieval carols. Drinks are available from the landmark Round Robin Bar and a pop-up lobby bar. 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. daily from Dec. 1 through Dec. 23. Free.

Dec. 7

A live-action version of the beloved holiday TV special finds Charlie Brown, Snoopy and the gang exploring the true meaning of the season, set to the music of Vince Guaraldi, at the brand-new Capitol One Hall in McLean. Proof of vaccination is required to attend. 7:30 p.m. $39.50-$69.50.

Dec. 8

It’s the most wonderful — and tackiest — night of the year at the Anthem, where members of the National Symphony Orchestra perform classic holiday melodies while wearing ugly holiday sweaters. Naturally, everyone in the audience is urged to do the same. This program is targeted at those who love orchestral music and the seasonal spirit but are put off by the formality of attending a concert at the Kennedy Center, making for a very special atmosphere. This is a seated performance, and proof of vaccination is required to attend. 7:30 p.m. $15-$30.

Dec. 9

There is no holiday celebration in the Washington area like Step Afrika’s Magical Musical Holiday Show. Forget calling birds: At this irresistible in-the-round show, lords and ladies dressed as nutcrackers and fairies leap and stomp their way across the stage while drummers drum and DJ beats keep the energy high. This is the 10th anniversary for Step Afrika’s Holiday Show, and previous years have included epic dance battles, step routines set to the rhythm of scraping snow shovels, and audience-participation line dances. It’s a joyous event for the whole family. Proof of vaccination is required to attend, and patrons must be at least 5 years old. Dec. 9-19. $25-$45.

Dec. 10

Last year, the Maryland Zoo operated its Zoo Lights displays as a drive-through event, with a limited number of chances for visitors to walk the quarter-mile trail past dozens of colorful, animated animal light displays. This year is a reversal: Walking is the only option Friday through Sunday, with drivers welcome Wednesday and Thursday. The trail ends at Zoo Central, where visitors can ride the train and carousel, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate (spiked or not) and, if they’re lucky, spot live penguins. Wednesday through Sunday, through Jan. 2. Walk-Thru: $28. Children younger than 2 free. Drive-through: $33 per vehicle.

Dec. 11

Thousands of people crowd the shoreline in downtown Annapolis every December to watch boats covered in colored lights cruise around the harbor and up and down Spa Creek — so many, in fact, that last year’s parade was canceled, for only the second time in its 39-year history. But the boats are back this year — a magical place where a tall sail takes the shape of a Christmas tree, and a powerboat can be decorated to look like a station wagon with a tree strapped to the top. Prime places to watch include Acton Cove waterfront park and the sea wall at the Naval Academy. 6 to 8 p.m. Free.

Dec. 12

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington’s 2020 spring concert was canceled early in the pandemic, and the 40-year-old ensemble has spent the ensuing months organizing virtual performances, including the popular holiday concert, which included song-and-dance numbers from previous years. But the Gay Men’s Chorus is ready to return to live concerts, beginning with this cabaret-style show that mixes high-energy production numbers — think drag queens and tap-dancing elves — with more intimate performances by its smaller ensembles, including the GenOUT Youth Chorus. Proof of vaccination is required to attend. 3 p.m. Also Dec. 4 at
8 p.m., and Dec. 11 at 3 and 8 p.m. $25-$65.

Dec. 13

Holiday lights glow brightly at this Prince George’s County park every night — even on Christmas Day — but if you want to avoid heavy traffic, the Department of Parks and Recreation suggests visiting Monday through Wednesday. It’s the right idea: The three-mile route passes more than 200 displays, including animated Santas, rainbow tunnels and characters from “The Wizard of Oz.” (Parents should know that Watkins is home to an Oz-themed playground and mini-golf course.) Note for repeat attendees: There’s a new entrance off Largo Road this year, instead of on Watkins Park Drive. Open nightly from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2. $8 in advance, $10 at the gate.

Dec. 14

Best known for its expansive gardens, Tudor Place is a historic Federal mansion designed by the architect of the U.S. Capitol and built for George Washington’s granddaughter. It was kept in the same family for almost two centuries, and during these candlelight tours of the house and gardens, docents discuss holiday traditions and how they changed over the years. 6 and 6:30 p.m. Also on Dec. 7, 9 and 16 (family night). $25.

Dec. 15

The Gaylord National offers three nightly light shows with music and lasers in its soaring atrium, but that’s just the beginning at National Harbor. The walk-through “I Love Christmas Movies” features 13
re-created sets from Christmas movies, including the North Pole workshop from “Elf” and the kitchen from “A Christmas Story,” with animatronic characters and special effects. There are bumper cars on ice; ice-covered hills to slide down on inner tubes; a gingerbread house decorating station; stories with Mrs. Claus over cookies and milk; cooking classes; an outdoor ice rink; and more. Naturally, you’ll pay for each of these experiences, though ticket bundles are available. Open daily Nov. 26 through Dec. 31. Prices vary.

Dec. 16

The attractions at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery right now are liquid pleasures: spiced Gingerbread Stout, malty Winter Warmer, bourbon barrel-aged Chocolate Mint Stout. But if you need another reason to go, holiday movies will be shown on Thursday evenings in December, including “Home Alone” (Dec. 2) and “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (Dec. 16). Movies are shown in a heated tent, and firepit tables are available in the open-air beer garden outside the Halethorpe brewery. Thursdays in December at 7:30 p.m. Free.

Dec. 17

For more than 50 years, the King’s Singers has been one of Britain’s most accomplished vocal groups, touring the world, picking up Emmy and Grammy awards, and performing everything from renaissance choral works to the Beatles. The lineups have changed through the years, but the quality has not. The gothic grandeur of Washington National Cathedral is an appropriate place for the sextet’s holiday concert, which will draw on songs from their seasonal albums, such as “The Coventry Carol” and “Wither’s Rocking Hymn.” 7:30 p.m. $20-$95. Also available to stream online (free, registration required).

Dec. 18

Who says fireworks are just for Independence Day? Mount Vernon’s “Christmas Illuminations” feature explosions over the Potomac River as well as colorful lights moving over the mansion and other historic buildings. Beyond the light show, there are tours of the mansion, 18th-century Christmas carolers and musicians, blacksmith demonstrations, talks about holiday dining and celebrations in George Washington’s time, and a holiday market with 18th-century crafts. 5:30 p.m. Also Dec. 17. $36-$60.

Dec. 19

Handel’s “Messiah” — specifically, the “Hallelujah Chorus” — is one of the highlights of the winter concert series, especially at the Kennedy Center. National Symphony Orchestra music director Gianandrea Noseda conducts the NSO in a series of selections from “Messiah,” as well as Bach’s “Magnificat,” joined by vocalists and the University of Maryland’s Concert Choir. Proof of vaccination is required to attend this event. 1 p.m. Also Dec. 16 at 7 p.m., Dec. 17 and 18 and 8 p.m. $44-$99.

Dec. 20

With stages shuttered last winter, Ford’s Theatre released an engaging radio adaptation of “A Christmas Carol” starring actor Craig Wallace, who has portrayed Ebenezer Scrooge at Ford’s since 2016. The radio play led José Carrasquillo, the director of artistic programming at the historic theater, to “reimagine” the staging of the Charles Dickens story. One big change: Because of vaccination requirements, children are not featured actors in this production. As “A Christmas Carol” returns for a five-week run, there’s a gift from Ford’s: The one-hour radio play will be available to stream on the theater’s website Dec. 3-27. Proof of vaccination is required to attend. Nov. 24 through Dec. 27. $32-$124.

Dec. 21

MC Kurtis Blow — hip-hop pioneer and “Christmas Rappin’ ” rapper — is the featured guest at this b-boys-meet-ballet production, which remixes Tchaikovsky’s familiar music with a team of dancers that pop, lock and flip. Proof of vaccination is required to attend. Dec. 20-22 at 8 p.m. $34-$68.

Dec. 22

Tiki may be synonymous with refreshing summer cocktails, but strong, fruity rum drinks are the perfect antidote to dark, chilly winter afternoons — especially when they’re served in comical glassware depicting Santa as a mermaid, or a hot tub-shaped ceramic bowl. Each December, U Street’s Archipelago bar transforms into Sippin’ Santa, adding more-kitschy-than-usual holiday decor and a playlist of twangy surf-style carols. The drinks have seasonal touches: the Sippin’ Santa adds gingerbread spice to aged Demerara rum, amaro and citrus, while the new Yule Log Grog’s warm mix of cranberry and ginger spices, gin and falernum will come in handy if you’re huddled under heat lamps on the patio. Open Wednesday through Saturday, Nov. 26 through Dec. 30. Free.

Dec. 23

Your friends/spouse/co-workers want to visit a colorful light display. You’d rather do something more active, such as ice skating. Ice and Lights, which debuted last year at Alexandria’s Cameron Run Regional Park, is the seasonal compromise. Pose for pictures with the Instagrammable displays — a sleigh, giant Moravian stars, a 100-foot long tunnel of rainbow lights — and then strap on your skates and spend an hour gliding across the ice. Heads up: Skating tickets must be purchased online in advance. Open daily through Jan. 2. (The ice rink stays open until Feb. 27, but the holiday decorations come down on Jan. 2.) $9.19-$22.03.

Dec. 24

One of the D.C. area’s quirkiest holiday traditions features Santa water skiing on the Potomac River, alongside elves and reindeer, and the mischief-making Grinch on a Jet Ski. Water skiing Santa, which began as a joke in 1986, has grown to involve a full cast of characters, including Jack Frost and Frosty the Snowman, as well as teams performing flips and aerial stunts that wow the crowds along the Old Town Alexandria waterfront. The show can be seen between Founders Park and Port LumleyPark, with many gathering near the Torpedo Factory, at least in the Before Times. Santa and the reindeer join Mrs. Claus and other characters around the Christmas tree in Waterfront Park after the show. 1 p.m. Free.

Dec. 25

Last year, with the Hylton Performing Arts Center unable to host live performances, the Manassas Ballet Theatre streamed performances featuring its two casts. Artistic director Amy Wolf said viewers tuned in from all over the world, as far away as Australia and Italy. This year, while the company is returning to in-person performances, which run for a week beginning Dec. 16, it is also making recordings of its two casts available for anyone to watch at home. Think of it as an easy way to bring some holiday spirit into your living room on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Cast A available at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 24; Cast B available at 2 p.m. Dec. 25. $25.

Dec. 26

The Kennedy Center has a Boxing Day gift for music fans: The first D.C. performance by the legendary Roots crew in two years. (That 2019 show? Also at the Kennedy Center.) The Roots are undertaking a two-year residency at the national performing arts center as part of the For the Culture program, which will include “performances, curatorial endeavors, activations, and humanities activities.” Proof of vaccination is required to attend. 8 p.m. $59-$149.

Adele Chapin contributed to this story.