Feel the magic of the season come alive with the sparkle and glow of a holiday light display. From the festive lighting of the National Christmas Tree or National Menorah to a drive-thru holiday light experience by the Bay, these events are sure to warm your winter nights and leave your family belting out their favorite Christmas carols. Scroll down for the best places to spark the holiday spirit with a twinkling holiday light show in the DC metro area. Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!


photo: The Wharf

Holidays at The Wharf

Make Christmas special by heading to the waterfront for the tree lighting and s’mores by the fire pit. While you are there, check out a movie at the pop-up movie theater. Flicks are screened Fri.-Sun. and occasionally on weeknights. You can catch Home Alone after the tree lighting; other holiday offerings include Elf, The Grinch, Terry Perry's A Madea Christmas and The Polar Express (Editor's note: The showing of Home Alone has now sold out, but tickets are still available for other upcoming shows).  A little word to the wise: carpool (parking is hard-to-find) and come early if you can for a good viewing spot. 

Cost: Free, although food may have a fee
When: Nov. 27, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. 
Where: District Pier and District Square, 1100 Maine Ave. SW
Online: redtri.com

Zoolights Express

This year, the zoo will come to you! The National Zoo's beloved Zoolights won't take place on property this year. But you can catch the 24-foot Zoolights Express truck, outfitted with lights galore, to bring a little bit of the festivities to your hood. A special guest, Panda Claws, will be on board to wish you a very happy holiday season. For a route map for each ward, go here

Cost: Free
When & Where:  Nov. 27, Ward 1;  Nov. 28, Ward 2; Dec. 4, Ward 3; Dec. 5, Ward 4; Dec. 11, Ward 5; Dec. 12, Ward 6; Dec. 18, Ward 7; Dec. 19, Ward 8
Online: redtri.com 

The National Tree Lighting

Presented by the National Park Service and National Park Foundation, this tree lighting marks the 98th anniversary of the annual event. Due to COVID, this year's tree lighting ceremony will be held virtually (there will be no live audience); you can view it here. Want to get up-close and personal with the national tree and the 56 smaller trees representing all of the 50 states, U.S. territories and the District of Columbia? The always-impressive tree will be lit every day from about 4:30 to 10 p.m. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 3
WhereEllipse (National Mall)
Online: redtri.com

National Menorah Lighting Ceremony

Presented by American Friends of Lubavitch, this annual event takes place on the Ellipse near the White House. It will feature performances by Dreidelman and the Macabees and the U.S. Marine Band plus attendees will get hot latkes and donuts in addition to dreidels and menorah kits. Tickets are required for this free event, so go online to get yours (seating is limited). 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 10 at 4 p.m.
Where: Ellipse on the National Mall
Online: redtri.com


Festival of Lights and Carols

Get ready to belt some Christmas classics (and a few new tunes) at this annual sing-along event. Head to Old Town Square to listen to live holiday music, eat s’mores and sip hot cider. Be sure to stay for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at 5:30 p.m. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 5, 12-6 p.m.
Where: Old Town Square, 10415 North St., Fairfax, VA
Online: redtri.com

photo: iStock

Leesburg Christmas Tree Lighting

Leesburg's major lighting extravaganza doesn't disappoint. Local groups will perform and you'll hear a special message from a special person (wink-wink). Be sure to come back the following week to enjoy one of the region's best holiday parades on Sat., Dec. 12. This year, the parade might look a little bit different, but you can't cancel this fun! Get ready to drive-thru an experience guaranteed to Glitter and Glow

Editor's Note: Officials are monitoring the rising COVID numbers carefully. Be sure to check the town's official website prior to heading to these events. Last minute cancellations are still possible due to COVID.  

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 4 at 6 p.m.
Where: 25 West Market St., Leesburg, VA
Online: redtri.com

Winter Walk of Lights

This Vienna garden becomes a twinkling wonderland at dusk when a half-mile walk becomes illuminated with animated lights. Due to COVID, there will not be fire pits this year, but concessions are available for purchasing snacks. 

COVID-19 Update: Guests 5 & older are required to wear masks when touring the property. 

Cost: $11.25-20
Date: Daily through Jan. 3 (including holidays)
Where: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, VA
Online: redtri.com

Santa Lights Manassas

Choo, choo! Santa coming through! Get hyped for the arrival of Santa by VRE train. This year looks a little different; Santa will not be doing a meet-and-greet after the tree lighting, but there are still plenty of holiday activities to keep the festivities going. Go ice skating, take a wagon ride or get a jump on holiday shopping. Want to play it safe? This event will also be live-streamed. 

Insider tip: Want more holiday fun via the rails? Check out these trains that feature visits from the Big Guy himself. 

Cost: Free
When: Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. 
Where: The Manassas Museum, 9101 Prince William St., Manassas, VA
Online: redtri.com


Lights on the Bay

Grab your footed pajamas and a thermos of hot chocolate; this light display is a drive-thru attraction that features over two miles of lights along the Chesapeake Bay. Lights on the Bay boasts over 70 animated and stationery exhibits. For an additional fee, guests can purchase 3-D glasses for a truly unique experience.

Cost: $20 per car; $5/3-D glasses
Date: Daily from 5-10 p.m. now through Jan. 2
Where: Sandy Point State Park, 1100 E College Pkwy, Annapolis, MD
Online: redtri.com

photo: iStock

A Virtual Jingle Jubilee

If watching a tree lighting in your jammies is, well, your jam, check out this virtual event that features a special visit from Santa along with the official lighting of the Gaithersburg Christmas tree. The Gaithersburg High School band will play holiday music during this festive, online event.

When: The on-demand video will be avail. starting on Dec. 6
Online: redtri.com


—Meghan Yudes Meyers, Ayren Jackson-Cannady with Stephanie Kanowitz


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