Holiday favorites return to the Northern Virginia region, from holiday displays and celebrations to visits with Santa, and fun ways to kick off the new year. We asked Northern Virginia experts to tell us what fun holiday favorites they look forward to most. Read on for their suggestions and details on these favorite seasonal events, listed in order of opening date for 2019 and 2020.
1. Season’s Greetings: All Aboard, US Botanic Garden, Washington DC, Nov 28 – Jan 5
As the weather drops in our nation’s capital, I enjoy taking in the holiday displays at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. As you step into their greenhouse, you are immediately transported to a tropical destination with its lush vegetation. Their holiday display begins on Thanksgiving Day, with unique décor and the largest living decorated indoor tree in the DC area. An elaborate model train display rounds out this holiday favorite, featuring iconic train stations from around the USA.
2. Christmas at Mount Vernon, Nov 29 – Dec 31
Looking for a place to walk off your feast surrounded by colonial history? Mount Vernon’s holiday favorites are open daily throughout the season, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tour the grounds and the Mansion, including the third floor which is only open during the Christmas season.
Learn fun facts about our country’s earliest holiday traditions—George Washington first proclaimed a day of thanksgiving in 1789—and visit Aladdin the Christmas Camel a tradition Washington began in 1787. You can also tour Mount Vernon by Candlelight on weekends from November 29 to December 22. During the candlelight tour, Lady Washington and other members and workers at Mount Vernon share Washington’s holiday traditions.
3. Reston Holiday Parade, Reston Town Center, Nov 29
One of my favorite holiday activities is the Holiday Parade at Reston Town Center on the Friday after Thanksgiving. My family knows to schedule Thanksgiving meals on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday, but Friday is always held open for the parade.
Growing up in a rural area in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, I always looked forward to the excitement of the Firemen’s parades. The Reston Holiday Parade brings back pleasant memories but amplifies them. The big inflated characters that are pulled along the parade route put us in league with the holiday parades on television, but our parade is much more personal. The school and community groups and the local dancers and performers highlight the diversity and talent of our community.
Jane and I are always in the parade. It is really exciting to turn the corner onto Market Street and see all the children in their colorful winter coats and scarves and see the excitement in their eyes that the holiday season brings. The high school band and the fire trucks make it an exciting parade, but nothing can top the final entry—the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn sleigh. I am getting excited just thinking about the parade coming up!
Recommended by Delegate Ken Plum, native Virginian, now in his thirty-ninth year of service representing the 36th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. Follow Delegate Plum on Facebook and Twitter.
4. Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend, Alexandria, Dec 6 – 7
From tree lightings and candlelight tours of historic sites to shopping trips and even a water skiing Santa, Old Town Alexandria has a lot of holiday favorites to offer. However, the one event that my family never misses is the Scottish Walk weekend. The parade is filled with hundreds of Scottish clansmen complete with bagpipes. After the parade, shop at the Christmas marketplace; it’s all for a good cause.
The Scottish Walk weekend is one of the largest fundraisers for the Campagna Center, a non-profit organization helping children and families in need in Alexandria, Virginia. Follow all of this up with Alexandria’s Boat Parade of Lights, a decorated boat parade at sundown, and Old Town is tough to beat.
Recommended by Chris Militzer, an Alexandria, Virginia photographer specializing in fine art photography of landscapes and nature, featured on Visit Virginia, and USA Today. Follow Chris on Instagram and Twitter.
5. Christmas in Middleburg, Middleburg, Dec 6 – 7
My favorite local spot to get in the holiday spirit is in the heart of hunt country—Middleburg, Virginia. The 18th century town has been kicking off the holiday season in style during its annual “Christmas in Middleburg” event the first weekend in December for over a hundred years!
The highlight of Middleburg’s festivities is Saturday’s “Hunt and Hounds Review” featuring hounds trotting down the main Washington Street alongside mounted fox hunt riders (Dec 7, 11:00 am). But the fun doesn’t stop there! Other holiday activities include a greens sale, craft fair, caroling, a holiday concert, a traditional parade with floats and—my favorite!— special food and spirits tastings throughout the town.
Recommended by Christina Ricchiuti, a TV producer by day and a mid-Atlantic travel blogger by night. Follow along with her many DC-area adventures on her blog, PackedSuitcase.com, and on Instagram @packDsuitcase.
6. Haymarket Holiday Celebration, Haymarket, December 7
The annual Haymarket Holiday Celebration brings friends and family together for free community fun. Enjoy hot cocoa, cider, and A Taste of Haymarket. Listen to carols and live musical performances as you roast marshmallows over a bonfire in front of Town Hall. The Town Museum stays open all day with a holiday-themed exhibit, and the tree is lit at dusk. Everyone cheers when Santa and Mrs. Claus ride into town.
7. Jingle on Lake Anne, Reston, December 7
My favorite holiday event in Northern Virginia is Jingle on Lake Anne, a holiday celebration for kids at Lake Anne Plaza in Reston. It includes a petting zoo, crafts, caroling, and a tree lighting, but the highlight every year is Santa’s thrilling arrival by boat. Elves on standup paddleboards accompany Santa, adding to the fun. Children cheer as he approaches (and I find myself cheering just as loudly as they do!) After his grand entrance, Santa sits with each of his fans for pictures. This year’s Jingle on Lake Anne takes place on December 7th, and I’ll be there with my kids and their letters for Santa. They are already counting down the days on the calendar.
8. Christmas Village at Leesburg Animal Park, Dec 6 – 7, 13-14, 20-23
Celebrate the holidays with your animal friends at Leesburg Animal Park in Loudoun County. Three weekends in December, the park features an evening Christmas Village. Enjoy a nativity scene with live animals, pony rides, animal encounters, pictures with your furry friends, holiday crafts, a bonfire, holiday lights, and more. The park is free for those under two and $10.95 for children and adults.
9. Christmas at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Dec 14
The National Museum of the Marine Corps has become a holiday destination for many families. The Museum’s Leatherneck Gallery is hung with yards of garland, bows and wreaths. Two small holiday trees grace the main gallery and a 21-foot Marine Corps-themed tree was added in 2015.
On Christmas Family Day, a very magical Santa and Mrs. Claus (with a twinkle in his eye) will be on hand to visit with little ones. These two can honestly calm the fussiest baby and the most frightened child, and there are activities to keep the young ones busy while they wait in line. Visitors are welcome to take as many pictures as they like, so bring your camera along. You must be in line by 3:30. All museum activities are free and open to the public.
10. Neighborhood Holiday Decorations, Multiple Locations, December
Nicknamed Candy Cane Lane, visiting East Juniper Street in Sterling has been one of our holiday favorites since our children were small. While the decorations vary year to year, you can always count on several houses decked out with kitschy, traditional or modern holiday decor. One year, a tree was hung with sparkly AOL CDs while its neighbor featured a surfing Santa. Parking can be tight and crowds are on foot, so use extreme caution when driving on or near Juniper Street around Christmas. We suggest you grab the first available parking spot and walk the street on foot.
Find more holiday fun in our complete guide: Holiday Lights in the Northern Virginia and Washington DC Area.
11. New Year’s Eve at First Night Alexandria, Alexandria, Dec 31
Alexandria is just magical during the holidays and I have almost too many favorite events to count! I love First Night Alexandria, which has been an Alexandria tradition for over 20 years. Old Town is transformed into a big New Year’s Eve celebration with more than 100 live performances at 22 indoor venues and a fireworks display over the river at midnight. Your First Night badge lets you into all the venues which include art galleries, historic sites, churches, and even retail shops.
The First Night event is tailor-made for the entire family, but I’ve also done it as a night out with friends, adding on stops at my favorite places for dinner and drinks. The streets buzz with festive excitement and good cheer, and there’s a dance party at the foot of King Street leading up the midnight fireworks. There is also a First Night Fun Hunt during the day and an Old Fashioned Carnival in Del Ray for those who have little ones!
12. First Day Hikes, Virginia State Parks, Jan 1
I love to hike year-round and, like many people, I try to recommit to fitness when the new year begins. Happily, all 36 Virginia State Parks offer guided and open hikes for the Annual First Day Hikes sponsored by America’s State Parks. In Northern Virginia, we are lucky to have several beautiful first-day hiking destinations close at hand. Kick-off 2020 at Leesylvania SP with two-hour hikes focused on the park’s history, visit Mason Neck SP and choose from several trails for different challenge levels, or head to Sky Meadows SP for a hike and history visit. Or explore more of our favorite Northern Virginia trails and make an active outing one of your holiday favorites. I’m hoping for good hiking weather and an active start to the new year.
We offer a huge thank you to all of the Northern Virginia experts who helped us discover new holiday favorites and plan a season full of happy, sparkly fun. What holiday favorites are you looking forward to most?
Find more seasonal fun with our holiday guides:
- Holiday Lights in the Northern Virginia Area
- Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights
- Bull Run Festival of Lights
- CE National Harbor and Christmas on the Potomac, Gaylord Resort
- 2019 December Events in Northern Virginia – Festivals and Fun Near DC
- Favorite Holiday Markets in Northern Virginia and the DC Region
- Virginia Gift Guide for Residents and Travelers Who LOVEVA
- Holiday Shopping Fun in Northern Virginia
This article was published in 2016 and updated in 2017, 2018, and 2019.