18 Free (and Fun) Things to Do During the Holidays

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The turkey is roasting, the fire is crackling, and you’re trying to get your family into the holiday spirit. Whether they’re super psyched like the Griswolds or grumpy like the Grinch, we’ve got your must-check out events (that just so happen to be free, too) that will help take that holiday spirit to a whole new level.

reston-santa-paradePhoto credit: Reston Town Center via Facebook

#1 Reston Town Center Holiday Parade
Families from across Northern Virginia (and beyond) gather to kick off the Christmas Season with a fun parade and Christmas Tree lighting. And, word on the street is that Santa himself is supposed to show up!

When: Nov. 28, 11 am
Reston Town Center (Reston, Va)
Online: restontowncenter.com

#2 National Christmas Tree Lighting and the Pageant of Peace
Little ones who just can’t wait another moment for Christmas, might be pacified at the National Christmas Tree Lighting on the Ellipse. Combined with the Pageant of Peace, families can watch the First Family light the “Nation’s Christmas Tree,” which features ornaments sent from all 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia, while local choirs belt out familiar holiday tunes.

When: Dec. 4, 5 pm
The Ellipse between 17th and 15th Sts., NW
Online: thenationaltree.org

#3 Middleburg Hunt Christmas Parade
Animal lovers will adore the Middleburg Hunt Christmas Parade. The famous Middleburg Hunt Review will ride down Main Street with red coated horseback riders and their hounds to kick off the winter season with holiday revelry. Draught horses are available for hayrides later in the day, while Mom is off shopping at the craft fair.

When: Dec. 6,  8 am–6 pm
Main St. (Middleburg, Va)
Online: christmasinmiddleburg.org

#4 Zoo Lights at the National Zoo
Lit up by more than half a million LED lights, the National Zoo becomes a winter wonderland for the animals and their guests. Live music, yummy treats, a choo choo train, ice sculptures, and a brand new light show will wow the kids and tucker them out for bedtime!

When: Nov. 28–Jan. 5, 5 pm-9 pm
3001 Connecticut Ave., NW (Woodley Park)
Online: nationalzoo.si.edu

botanic-garden-holidaysPhoto credit: United States Botanic Garden via Facebook

#5 Season’s Greetings at the U.S. Botanic Gardens
Privateers and buccaneers should set sail for the Botanic Garden’s annual Christmas display that will feature 33 lighthouses that explore the world’s oceans—with plants. Grab your spyglass and keep watch for the pirate ship or walk the plank to check out the model trains winding their way through a snowy village.

When: Nov. 27-Jan. 5
100 Maryland Ave., SW (National Mall)
Online: usbg.gov

#6 Santa Fly In
Wannabe pilots can watch Santa fly into the College Park Aviation Museum to do arts and crafts, take pictures, and of course, listen to little one’s Christmas wish lists.

When: Dec. 6, 12 pm-4 pm
1985 Corporal Frank Scott Dr. (College Park, Md)
Online: collegeparkaviationmuseum.com

#7 Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-A-Long
Drag your kids away from The Voice and take them to a real sing-along. The United States Marine Band will lead carolers (that’s YOU) in various renditions of Christmas and Hanukkah songs leading up to the last song of the night—Silent Night—where participants are invited to light candles during the last verse.

When: Dec. 7, 4 pm
Filene Center
1645 Trap Rd. (Vienna, Va)
Online: wolftrap.org

#8 National Hanukkah Menorah
Celebrate Hanukkah by watching as the first candle is lit on the National Menorah to start the weeklong festival of lights. Little ones can munch on donuts and latkes as they listen to the US Air Force Band.

When: Dec. 16,  6 pm
The Ellipse
Between 17th and 15th Sts., NW
Online: nationalmenorah.org

scottish-christmas-walkPhoto credit: Campagna Center via Facebook

#9 Scottish Christmas Walk
If your little ones are gaga for “Brave,” then be sure to check out Old Town’s Scottish Christmas Walk where hundreds of clansmen march through Old Town to celebrate their heritage and welcome the holiday season. Little ones can see re-enactment groups, pipe and drum bands, Scottish dancers, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

When: Dec. 6, 11 am
St. Asaph and Wolfe Sts. (Alexandria, Va)
Online: campagnacenter.org

#10 Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Mini sailing buffs will love seeing all the boats decked out for Christmas as they light up the night along the Potomac. More than 50 boats, including Alexandria’s fireboat, the Vigilant, and D.C.’s fireboat, the John Glenn (it spurts water 70 feet into the air!) will join the procession to celebrate the winter season.

When: Dec. 6, 5:30 pm
Alexandria Marina, behind the Torpedo Factory (Alexandria, Va)
Online: visitalexandriava.org

#11 13th Annual DAR Christmas Open House
Celebrate the Christmas season by taking the kids for a history lesson so fun they won’t even know they’re learning! The Daughters of the American Revolution open Memorial Continental Hall—a Registered Historic Landmark—so that holiday revelers can tour rooms adorned in period décor, enjoy Christmas music, and discuss wish lists with the man in red while Mom and Dad get a jump on some holiday shopping.

When: Dec. 10, 5:30 pm-8 pm
DAR Memorial Continental Hall
17th and D Sts., NW (Farragut)
Online: dar.org

christmas-at-north-beachPhoto credit: North Beach Maryland via Facebook

#12 Christmas on the Beach
Families who are already wishing for warm summer beach vacations, should head over to North Beach’s Christmas on the Beach parade featuring Santa, a parade and enough holiday cheer to make kids pretend they’re wearing a swimsuit (instead of a parka).

When: Dec. 6, 12 pm
8916 Chesapeake Ave. (North Beach, Md)
Online: ci.north-beach.md.us

#13 Festival of Lights at the Mormon Temple
Frequent riders of the Capital Beltway get a chance to hop off, and take the family to visit the Mormon Temple (the beautiful white building with gold spires on the north side) and its annual Festival of Lights. The temple is lit with more than 600,000 lights and features concerts, an outdoor nativity, crèche exhibits from across the world and themed Christmas trees.

When: Dec. 4 through the New Year, 10 am-10 pm
9900 Stoneybrook Dr. (Kensington, Md)
Online: dctemplelights.lds.org

#14 Breakfast with Santa
Little ones looking to sit on Santa’s lap and tug at his beard should visit Del Ray United Methodist Church’s annual Breakfast with Santa. Families can enjoy French toast, eggs, and coffee while the little ones giddly await the man himself. Kids have their picture taken with Santa after breakfast, and get the chance to see one of Santa’s elves! Tip: The event is free, but canned goods for donation to Rising Hope Food Bank are appreciated.

When: Dec. 6, 9 am
100 E. Windsor Ave. (Alexandria, Va)
Online: delrayumc.org

bethesda-ice-sculpturePhoto credit: Bethesda Urban Partnership via Facebook

#15 Bethesda’s Winter Wonderland
If your little ones have ever wondered what it takes to carve ice sculptures then be sure to stop by the Bethesda Winter Wonderland celebration to take in the live ice sculpting presentations. Kiddos can listen to Christmas carols and get a visit from Santa after the masterpieces are finalized.

When: Dec. 6, 12 pm
Veterans Park
Woodmont and Norfolk Aves. (Bethesda, Md)
Online: bethesda.org

#16 Kids Euro Festival
Jetsetting parents, or those wishing to relive their study abroad days, can pretend they’re traveling for the holidays by taking the kiddos to this festival. Celebrating more than 27 countries, there will be over 200 free performances for little ones scattered throughout the city. Everything from Spanish mime theater to Bulgarian puppets and The Italian Fairy to Slovakia’s version of Cow Story.

When: through Nov. 9
Online: kidseurofestival.org

#17 Holley TrolleyFest
Train crazy kids will go bananas for the National Capital Trolley Museum’s annual Holly TrolleyFest where they can ride the rails with Santa Claus, and check out a trolley themed holiday village.

When: Dec. 6, 7, 13, 14, 20, 21, 27, 28, 12:30 pm-4:30 pm
1313 Bonifant Rd. (Colesville, Md)
Online: dctrolley.org

#18 Water Skiing Santa
You’ve never seen Santa like this before—his sled turns into water skis as he glides across the Potomac and heads straight for the National Harbor. Little ones may also catch sight of a knee boarding reindeer, flying elves, a jet skiing Grinch and a Snowman in a boat!

When: Dec. 24, 1 pm
Woodrow Wilson Bridge (National Harbor, Md)
Online: waterskiingsanta.com

What’s on your holiday to-do list? Tell us in the Comments section below. Bonus points if it’s something free!

—Hilary Riedemann

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