Most of the year, our nation’s capital might be all work and no play, but during the holiday season, everyone lets loose. For families stationed in the greater Washington DC metro area, celebrating in style with children in tow is a snap. Get your whole family into the Christmas spirit with these epic events.

Carols at the Cathedral

You don’t have to be religious to love this series of concerts at the National Cathedral. The renowned choir kicks off the season with several performances of Handel’s Messiah, a stirring and soulful classic. As December turns more firmly toward Christmas, the church hosts several performances of carol singing by candlelight. The congregation joins the choir to sing out holiday carols and songs beloved through the ages. Hop on these tickets fast since they have been known to sell out quickly. This is great for kiddos who love to sing or who will enjoy the majesty of beautiful music in a gorgeous setting. Be sure to take a look at the unique stained glass windows inside.

ICE Inside

Even if there isn’t snow on the ground outside, the Gaylord National Hotel in National Harbor has some for sure. Head over to Maryland for ICE! Slip down one of four ice slides, check out Rudolph and his pals, and walk through a winter wonderland. Bring your coat because the entire event is kept at a chilly 9℉. There are package deals available as well as military discounts.

National and State Trees

Every year, a beautiful evergreen is placed on the Ellipse, right in front of the White House. Many smaller trees surround the massive centerpiece, each one representing a US state or territory. While the November 30 lighting event kicks the whole season off, visitors can check out the trees any time, day or night. A nighttime viewing is especially beautiful before heading further into the city to grab a delicious dinner.

Congressional Christmas Tree

Lesser known that the National Tree, the Capitol Christmas Tree is equally beautiful. This tree is often more colorfully decorated than the more traditional National Tree. Plus, this is a great spot to venture into other locations in and around DC.

DC in Miniature

Every year, the US Botanical Garden celebrates the season with amazing all-natural displays. In the first garden, take a walk around DC in miniature. Every major landmark and memorial is lovingly crafted from leaves, petals, and other plant material. You can even see Abe Lincoln inside his memorial.

Then head into the wings for a special event featuring model trains. A small holiday express chug-chugs along through, this year, roadside attractions of America. This is often crowded, so be prepared to wait. However, if you go on a weekday or during the afternoon, you could hit a lull. Even if you’re waiting a while, you’ll be nice and toasty warm inside!

Dickens at Ford’s

Just the cool factor of being the site of a presidential assassination should be enough to get your tweens and teens in the door! When you add in Dickens’ beloved Christmas classic, this is a showstopper for sure. Ford’s Theater is running A Christmas Carol throughout the holiday season.

Kennedy Center Messiah

Get one last Messiah performance in this year at a free concert on December 23. Ticket routinely run out quickly, so claim yours early. The Kennedy Center’s Messiah performance is a long-running Washington DC family tradition. This is one concert where audience participation is encouraged!

Lights at the Zoo

Every year, the animals at the National Zoo get together to decorate the whole place! Wander through the zoo at night, enjoying the twinkling lights, and maybe a cup of something warm. Children will love to peek at their favorite animals after bedtime. The chimpanzees and orangutans are notoriously sleepy. Pop into the main visitors center to look at the gingerbread house competition, too.

Art on Ice

Just off the National Mall, there is a garden filled with giant sculptures. In the winter, the National Gallery of Art turns the central fountain area into a giant ice rink. Skaters young and old can take a spin on the ice from November to March. After chilling on the ice, head over to the Pavillion Cafe to get some coffee or tea and a sweet snack.

Wreaths at Arlington

Arlington Cemetery hold our nation’s collective grief and remembers the sacrifices we have made for freedom. Each year, Wreaths Across America honors these sacrifices here and at national cemeteries across the country. If there is one event for your military family in Washington DC to participate in this season, it’s this. Head to Arlington Cemetery early on December 16 to take part. ID holders have been able to park on Fort Myer in the past and walk into Arlington using the usually-closed gates.



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Meg is a military spouse, teacher, writer, and mom of two MilKids. She is an education blog and coaching/advocacy service focused on military families. Meg's mission is to help families understand and navigate the K-12 world. She provides timely posts, timeless advice, and personal assistance to families with school-aged children. You can find Meg online at and @MegFlanaganEducation

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