It’s been a long year. Let’s get festive!

Seasonal rejuvenation might mean escaping into a big musical like “An American in Paris” at the Kennedy Center or crafting holiday decorations in Georgetown or Brentwood. Performance touchstones abound (hallelujah) — comforting soul food to start the winter and fortify group outings.

Here's the best of the holiday season, including such activities as new dance performances (often untethered from the seasonal theme) and creative pop-up shops. You can even find merriment in the sarcasm of David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries” at Drafthouse Comedy Theater, with actor Cameron Folmar re-creating Sedaris’s hilarious tenure as a not-so-jolly department store elf. From chorales to comedy, you’ll find options for every mood.

Food and drink

Warm cinnamon cookies, gingerbread-spiced beer, cocktails that taste like chocolate oranges — we associate them with the holidays as much as we do lights and tinsel. Here are a few ways to indulge in holiday flavors this season. — Fritz Hahn and Holley Simmons

Miracle on Seventh Street
After pop-up bars dedicated to cherry blossoms, Super Mario Brothers, “Game of Thrones” and Halloween, we’re back where it all began: the Miracle on Seventh Street pop-up bar. Expect an overdose of Instagram-ready festive decor — remember last year’s sweater-wearing goats and the room full of narwhals? — while sipping cocktails inspired by holiday flavors and grooving to seasonal tunes. Dress warmly, and expect to wait in long lines to get in. Friday through Dec. 31. Closed Christmas Day. 1839-1843 Seventh St. NW. Free.

Winterfest at Wunder Garten
What does a beer garden do when the weather turns too cold for sitting in the sun with liters of hefeweizen? It reinvents itself as a winter garden, with fire pits, blankets and hot toddies. Now decorated with seasonal lights, Wunder Garten offers photos with Santa, pop-up markets, DIY craft workshops, food and even a Christmas tree lot, so you can bring some spirit home with you. Dec. 1-17. Open Thursday and Friday at 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at noon. Free.

Give a Can, Get a Can
This is one of the simplest and most effective holiday food drives around. Bring a canned good to Pizzeria Paradiso to donate to Martha’s Table and you can trade it for a can of craft beer. Bring two cans and you’ll get two beers, and so on. (Please skip the Chef Boyardee or clam chowder: The charity asks for low-sodium vegetables, fruit, and pasta and tomato sauce.) This year, Give a Can, Get a Can is being held at the Dupont Circle restaurant on Dec. 6 and at the new Hyattsville location on Dec. 13. 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Free.

12 Days of Christmas at the Oval Room
From Dec. 11 to 23, the Oval Room is serving a new dish or cocktail every evening that corresponds to the lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” On Day Six, six geese a-laying translates to goose egg ravioli and roasted wild mushrooms. On Day Eight, eight maids milking means goat’s milk panna cotta with figs and toasted almond cereal. The offerings are available only that evening, so tell the reindeer to rush.

Festivus at Rustico
Now in its 11th year, this “Seinfeld”-inspired party celebrates everyone’s favorite made-up holiday. On Dec. 13, the Alexandria restaurant will pour 20 locally brewed, holiday ales. Snacks are also inspired by the sitcom and include calzones, paella and a black-and-white cookie. Of course, there’s a Festivus pole. Come prepared to air your grievances.

Feast of the Seven Fishes at G and Graffiato
Mike Isabella celebrates this beloved Italian American tradition with special tasting menus at two of his restaurants. At G, his sandwich shop, guests will find such dishes as a duo of oysters, snow crab arrabbiata and pan-roasted branzino (Dec. 15-24, $65 for the five-course spread). And at Graffiato, the bounty includes seashell pasta with shrimp, bay scallops, clams, tomato and aleppo pepper (Dec. 18-24, $69).


The month of December is the sweet spot for many large performing arts institutions: Classical music offers the warmth, communion and cheer that many people are looking for as winter draws in, regardless of religious affiliation. Here are some of the season’s holiday highlights. — Anne Midgette

Choral music
Washington’s many choruses come into their own in December (the Washington Chorus is offering no fewer than five iterations of its holiday concert at the Kennedy Center, Dec. 10-22). For choral concerts of seasonal music further off the beaten track, check out the Washington Master Chorale, which is performing a “Lauda per la Nativita del Signore” by Ottorino Respighi, composer of the famous “Pines of Rome.” Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m., Episcopal Church of the Epiphany. $10-$50. 

‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’
Once upon a time, television actually commissioned operas, and Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” written for NBC in 1951, has remained a holiday classic. This year, George Washington University’s music program is teaming up with the theater and dance program for a new staged production of this story of a lame child and the Three Wise Men. Dec. 8 and 9 at 7:30 p.m. at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. 

It wouldn’t be the holiday season without “Messiah” — Handel’s oratorio, that is, which is de rigueur this time of year for orchestras. The National Symphony Orchestra, which offers a slightly different take every year, has entrusted it to Jeannette Sorrell, the dynamic conductor of the group Apollo’s Fire; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s version is in the hands of Edward Polochick; the National Philharmonic is offering one at Strathmore; and the NSO Pops is presenting a 25th-anniversary performance of “Handel’s Messiah — a Soulful Celebration,” which interpolates African American music and traditions. And if you want to participate, there’s the Kennedy Center’s annual singalong, led by conductor Nancia d’Alimonte. NSO: Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., Dec. 15-16 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. $15-$89. BSO: Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 3 p.m. at the Meyerhoff Concert Hall. $15-$59. National Philharmonic: Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 3 p.m. at the Music Center at Strathmore. $34-$88. NSO Pops: Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. $29-$79. Messiah singalong: Dec. 23 at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. Admission is free, but tickets are required; they will be distributed in the Hall of Nations starting at 4:30 p.m.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
In the German-speaking world, it’s not “Messiah” but Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, or Weihnachtsoratorium, that represents the ubiquitous seasonal fare. The Washington Bach Consort is offering four of the set of six (I, II, V and VI) in a concert led by Dana Marsh, one of the candidates for the group’s music directorship (audience members are invited to leave feedback that will aid in the search). Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. at the National Presbyterian Church. $10-$69.

‘The Little Prince’
The Washington National Opera has made a family holiday opera part of its annual season. This year, it’s the return of “The Little Prince,” composer Rachel Portman’s adaptation of the beloved book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, which the company says is best for children age 6 and older — and their parents. One of the performances is sensory-friendly, for children with sensory issues. Dec. 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 16 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. $45-$65. (Sensory-friendly performance is Dec. 16 at 2 p.m.)


Well, of course: “A Christmas Carol.” It’s as central to theater as “The Nutcracker” and “The Messiah” are to dance and music, and the long-running big show at Ford’s Theatre continues to be one of the city’s centerpiece traditions. This year’s returning variations on the story include Paul Morella’s devotional solo version at the Olney Theatre Center and Second City’s irreverent “Twist Your Dickens” at the Kennedy Center. But Dickens isn’t the only holiday staple onstage. — Nelson Pressley

‘Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush’
If you’ve never experienced a British-music-hall-style holiday show, check out “Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush.” The romp concocted by Catherine Flye played Arena Stage once upon a time, and now it’s being revived at MetroStage. Low jokes, jolly singalongs, sausage rolls and Christmas crackers will probably be part of the pub-style mix. Through Dec. 24 at MetroStage. $60.

‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Other Stories’
“A Child’s Christmas in Wales” isn't just the Dylan Thomas reminiscence. Washington Stage Guild Artistic Director Bill Largess is fleshing out this two-actor evening with short pieces by Louisa May Alcott, A.A. Milne and even Charles Dickens (“What Christmas Is as We Grow Older”). Nov. 24 through Dec. 17 at 900 Massachusetts Ave. NW. $50-$60.

‘Peekaboo! A Nativity Play’
For something new, consider “Peekaboo! A Nativity Play,” a premiere from playwright Anne M. McCaw. This fresh fable of a modern Mary and Joseph is billed as a “heartfelt farce” with political contours (and music). Hub Theatre is tucked away in a small Fairfax school where Artistic Director Helen Murray has demonstrated a good nose for quirky new works. Dec. 1-24 at the Hub Theatre in the New School of Northern Virginia. $32.


“The Nutcracker” tends to dominate the dance calendar right around now, but here’s a holiday surprise: That’s not the case this year. Of course, productions of the family-friendly Tchaikovsky ballet abound. But if you’re looking for something different in dance, there are lots of reasons to mark your calendar. The coming weeks deliver a wealth of dance offerings in different styles and genres, some featuring surprising pairings. Whether exuberant creations or a quiet duet, they promise a celebration of life, the sharing of stories and the comforts of coming together. — Sarah L. Kaufman

Camille A. Brown makes her Kennedy Center debut with two works addressing diversity, community and history: “Black Girl: Linguistic Play” and “Ink.” Both feature original music. Brown, from Queens, was a longtime member of Ronald K. Brown/Evidence before striking out on her own as a choreographer, and she has quickly garnered attention and awards. Dec. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. $19-$59.

DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea has a long name and a long history, going back to 1984. On tap are multicultural works by Francisco Castillo and others. Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at Dance Place. $20-$30.

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company premieres “I Am Vertical,” based on the stormy life and works of poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. This piece is inspired by the exhibition “One Life: Sylvia Plath” at the National Portrait Gallery, where Burgess is resident choreographer. Dec. 7 at 6:30 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 2 and 4 p.m. in the gallery’s Kogod Courtyard. Free.

The Suzanne Farrell Ballet gives its final performances in a program titled “Forever Balanchine,” in honor of the acclaimed choreographer. Two programs of his works will be performed, including such gems as “Chaconne” and “Tzigane.” Dec. 7 and 8 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 9 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center. $29-$89.

Former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, one of the most exquisite and daring ballerinas of recent years, teams up with contemporary choreographer and dancer Brian Brooks in “Some of a Thousand Words,” accompanied by the string quartet Brooklyn Rider. Dec. 9 at 8 p.m. at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. $10-$40.

Sylvia Soumah and her Coyaba Dance Theater present their annual Kwanzaa Celebration, featuring dancers of all ages. Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 17 at 4 p.m. at Dance Place. $18-$30.

Melvin Deal African Heritage Drummers and Dancers, a venerable Washington institution, performs a Kwanzaa concert. Dec. 27 at 11 a.m. at the Anacostia Community Museum. Free.


When you’re looking for the perfect gift for a family member, friend or favorite co-worker, you want to find something unique. That’s where the area’s holiday markets come in, with handmade items from local artisans and fine gifts from farther afield. — Fritz Hahn

Downtown Holiday Market
After 13 years, the Downtown Holiday Market has become a seasonal fixture in Washington. More than 180 exhibitors rotate through the booths in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, so if you don’t find the handbag or Alpaca wool gloves you were looking for, come back another day. The market also has live music and food and drink vendors. Friday through Dec. 23 from noon to 8 p.m. at Eighth and F streets NW. Free admission.

DC Brau’s Made in D.C. market
Washington’s oldest craft brewery throws open its doors for its annual Made in D.C. market, where you can pick up locally made clothing, baby accessories, jewelry, pottery, beef jerky and mumbo sauce from dozens of vendors while sipping DC Brau beers and grabbing snacks from food trucks. Saturday from 1 to 6 p.m. at DC Brau Brewing. Free admission.

Heurich House Christkindlmarkt
Christian Heurich’s Victorian mansion is the site of a weekend-long celebration of the holidays, inside and out. The large Castle Garden is transformed into a German-style Christmas market with dozens of artisans — including jewelers, printmakers, chocolatiers and potters — selling their wares, while the historical home is decorated as it would have been for Christmas in the early 20th century. Tickets include admission to the marketplace as well as a self-guided tour of the house. Dec. 1 from 4 to 9 p.m., Dec. 2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Heurich House Museum. $10-$15 per day, $20-$30 for a weekend pass.

House of Sweden’s Christmas Bazaar
The event center at the Embassy of Sweden’s House of Sweden hosts this annual bazaar, which is sponsored by the Swedish Women’s Educational Association. Both floors are filled with Swedish and Nordic goods — warm woolens, glass, textiles and gnome-related crafts — while the cafe sells baked goods, coffee and mulled wine. The day ends with a traditional Santa Lucia procession, followed by Swedish and American Christmas carols. Dec. 2 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (doors close at 4:30) at the House of Sweden. Free admission. Note: No strollers are allowed inside.

German Armed Forces Christkindlmarkt
Did you know that the Bundeswehr — the German armed forces — have a headquarters in a Reston office park, complete with a chunk of the Berlin Wall outside? (If you had no idea, you’re not alone.) One of the benefits of having the Bundeswehr in your back yard is that the Germans host a Christmas market in their parking lot to raise money for local charities. In addition to stands selling crafts and ornaments, there’s German music by the Alte Kameraden band, bratwursts and a beer garden. Dec. 7 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the German Armed Forces Command. Free admission.

Annapolis Midnight Madness
Sometimes it seems that there’s just not enough time to find something for everyone on your list. That won’t be the case at Annapolis Midnight Madness, where stores on some of the city’s main shopping drags — including Main Street, West Street and Maryland Avenue — stay open late with specials and refreshments. Carolers, musicians and entertainers occupy street corners, and light displays twinkle overhead (and at special Instagram-ready stations). A gift from the city to you: Parking is free at metered spaces and in designated garages. Dec. 7 and 14 from 6 p.m. to midnight, and Dec. 21 from 6 to 11 p.m. throughout downtown Annapolis, including West Street and Main Street. Free admission.


You probably already know about such traditions as the LED-lit wonderland ZooLights or the quirky spectacle of a water-skiing Santa on the Potomac. But here are a few more tried-and-true events around town that are sure to inspire the holiday spirit. — Adele Chapin and Peggy McGlone

Choral sounds at the Willard
Enjoy the sounds of the season at the Willard InterContinental hotel, where choral groups from across the region — including the Washington Chorus, the Children’s Chorus of Washington and the Vienna Falls Chorus — perform in the lobby from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. every night from Nov. 29 to Dec. 23.

Scottish Christmas Walk Parade
Cheer on Scottish dancers, marchers dressed in their finest tartans and Scottie dogs at Old Town Alexandria’s 47th Scottish Christmas Walk Parade. Santa Claus and Scottish bagpipers make an appearance in the parade, too, which concludes at Market Square with a band concert. Dec. 2 at 11 a.m. in Old Town Alexandria.

Georgetown Glow
Georgetown looks even more charming than usual this time of year, with all its red and green decorations. But the District’s oldest neighborhood takes a modern approach to holiday lights: Georgetown Glow is a month-long outdoor light-art exhibition, inviting artists from around the world to illuminate entire blocks with neon installations. Dec. 8-Jan. 7 from 5 to 10 p.m. Free.

National Menorah lighting
The gates open at 3 p.m. for the lighting ceremony of the world’s largest menorah, held across the street from the White House on the Ellipse. Refuel with hot latkes and doughnuts, pick up free dreidels and menorah kits, and take in a performance by the U.S. Air Force Band. Dec. 12 at 4 p.m. Free; tickets required.

An acoustic Christmas with Over the Rhine
The husband-and-wife-duo behind the folky, Ohio-based band Over the Rhine are drawn to Christmas music: They’ve recorded three albums worth of carols and their own compositions. The band takes its act on the road each December, playing songs that capture both the joy and loneliness of this darkest time of the year. Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere. $29.50.


Break from the routine with some pre-holiday workshops and outings that will recharge your creativity and satisfy your senses (and get you out of the shopping mall). With wreath-making and model trains, among other activities, you can welcome the season in a new way. — Peggy McGlone and Adele Chapin

Wreathmaking at Tudor Place
Channel your inner Martha Stewart with a two-hour morning or afternoon session making herbal or historic green wreaths at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden. Participants will weave fresh-cut foliage with herbs and spices — think cinnamon and lavender — into one-of-a-kind wreaths in the morning sessions, and learn how to create historical masterpieces of greenery in the afternoon. Dec. 9-10 at 10 a.m. (herbal) and 1:30 p.m. (historical greenery) at Tudor Place Historic House and Garden. $45 members, $55 nonmembers.

Ornament workshop
Create a paper ornament at this family-friendly workshop at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. All supplies are provided, but you can bring special paper. The session is free, and drop-ins are welcome. Dec. 16 at 2 p.m. at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. Free.

‘Festival of Mics: A Chanukah Celebration’
Take the stage at Sixth and I backed by the karaoke band HariKaraoke to sing Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Song — or “Sweet Caroline,” if that’s more your speed. Besides karaoke, there’s a make-your-own latke bar and Hanukkah drinks. Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. at Sixth & I Historic Synogogue. $15-$18.

Model train display
Train buffs young and old will want to head to the College Park Aviation Museum, where the National Capital Trackers create a display of model railroads, complete with tunnels, depots and villages. And after enjoying the train display, check out the aircraft at the historic airfield, which was founded in 1909. Dec. 16-23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the College Park Aviation Museum. Museum admission: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 children.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect address and ticket website for "Amahl and the Night Visitors" at George Washington University.