Maybe you’re in Camp Elsa — as in, the cold never bothers you (anyway). But some people need a reason to brave wintry weather. Holiday light shows are a good reason. Everyone bundles up, strolls down paths with twinkly lights, listens to seasonal music and sips hot cocoa. The holiday spirit is heartwarming even as your cheeks turn pink. If your family has gone in past years, there are new features at the familiar displays. And if you haven’t, well, this seems to be the year to venture “into the unknown.”
If you’re used to steamy summer evenings at Nationals Park, this first-time holiday attraction is quite an experience. The field has become a maze of lights on trees, archways and the nine giant reindeer from Santa’s sleigh. There’s an ice skating trail, musical performances, food for sale (including s’mores), “Christmas Village” shops and an opportunity to give Kris Kringle your Christmas wish list.
Where: Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol Street, Washington.
When: Daily (except December 9) until December 29.
How much: $14.99-$26.99 for ages 4 to 17; adults $19.99-$33.99; free for age 3 and younger. Discounts online.
Garden of Lights
Brookside Gardens in Maryland has more than a million colorful LED lights wrapping around trees and forming winter scenes in its annual Garden of Lights. Spend an hour or so walking through the gardens, then head to the conservatory to see a seasonal model train display. There’s also food for sale, a fire pit and a variety of musical performances.
Where: Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Avenue, Wheaton, Maryland.
When: Through December 31 (closed December 24-25).
How much: $25 per car or van Sunday-Thursday; $30 per car or van Friday-Saturday (and daily December 20 through 31).
More information: montgomeryparks.org/parks-and-trails/brookside-gardens/garden-of-lights
Winter Walk of Lights
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Virginia has a half-mile walking trail through the gardens featuring more than 100 flower species as well as rainbow-colored trees and animals. Several of the displays flash on and off to seem as though animals are moving around the gardens. (Challenge your siblings to see who can spot the most animals.) End the evening with s’mores by the fire pit and musical performances inside the visitors’ center.
Where: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, Virginia.
When: Through January 5.
How much: $11 for ages 2 to 12, $17 for ages 13 and older. Online discount.
More information: novaparks.com/events/winter-walk-of-lights.
Animals made of LED lights are the main attraction at the National Zoo’s annual free light show. This year the zoo has added 3-D glowing animal sculptures to the mix of 2-D lit-up lions, tigers and bears. Another new feature is called “Entre les Rangs” (“Between the Rows”), a collection of stems topped with reflectors meant to look like a shimmering wheat field. The nearby Great Meadow features musical and dance performances each night. For a small fee, visitors can try ice-tubing or ride the zoo’s train and carousel. There are plenty of holiday treats, including cocoa to warm up, and even gelato for those who want to embrace the cold.
Where: The National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington.
When: Through January 1 (closed December 24, 25 and 31).
How much: Free (parking is $25).
More information: nationalzoo.si.edu/events/zoolights.
If you live outside the D.C. area or are traveling during the holidays, check out zoo light displays at New York’s Bronx Zoo, California’s San Diego Zoo, Missouri’s Saint Louis Zoo or the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois.