By Carla Olivo, PCSgrades Director of Strategic Communications

Our Nation’s Capitol is beautiful to visit any time of the year but the holidays are particularly spectacular with special events, and displays scheduled throughout December and into January. One sure sign that the weather is a changin’ is the opening of the Washington Harbour Fountain and Ice Rink located in the lower plaza on the Georgetown waterfront. The rink is 11,800 square feet which is larger than the ice rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City. The skating season begins in mid-November and runs through March.


For the Whole Family!

Perhaps one of the most anticipated events of the year is ICE!. The ninth annual Christmas on the Potomac celebration at the iceGaylord National Resort and Convention Center will feature a theme of Christmas around the World to showcase different cultures and Christmas festivities.

Ice! Is a world-famous, interactive walk-through attraction that runs through January 1, 2017. Artisans from Harbin, China travel 6,000 miles to hand-carve more than two million pounds of colorful ice into larger-than-life ice sculptures to illustrate scenes celebrating the world’s diverse cultural traditions. Adults and kids alike also can enjoy two-story ice slides, an enchanting Parade of Toys, and larger-than-life ornaments. Visitors will learn how the attraction is made through colorful sculptures, as well as see an artisan carve live using chainsaws, ice picks and more. Kids 3 and younger are free. Military and group ticket pricing are available. Hours vary daily and can be found at


Downtown Washington D.C.

National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Since 1923, the United States has held a tradition of lighting a National Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C. each holiday season. In 1978, a live 40-foot Colorado blue spruce was transplanted from York, Pennsylvania to its present site on the Ellipse, the grassy area south of the White House. In 1954, the Pathway of Peace was started. Fifty-six smaller, decorated trees representing all 50 states, five territories, and the District of Columbia were planted surrounding the National Christmas Tree.

Each year sponsoring organizations from all fifty states provide ornaments that are encased in a protective plastic globe to shield it from the weather. The decorations are unique each year, and visitors from around the world come to check out the displays and live performances throughout the holiday season. Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon will host this year’s img_8887event and nationally known entertainers and a military band will perform. The President brings a message of peace to the nation and the world.

Date: Thursday, December 1, 2016, 4:30 p.m. The event is held rain or shine.

Free tickets are distributed each year through an online lottery which is now closed. The ceremony is broadcast on public TV. Check your local channel guide for details.

The National Christmas Tree and the Pathway of Peace will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Seasonal displays include a Yule log, a large-scale model train, and a Christmas manger. Tickets are only required for the lighting ceremony. Musical performances by volunteer choirs, bands, and dancers, will be held nightly from Wednesday, December 9 through Tuesday, December 22, 2015.

The closest Metro stations to the White House are Federal Triangle, Metro Center, and McPherson Square. Parking is very limited in this area, so public transportation is recommended.

National Hanukkah Menorah

A National Hanukkah Menorah is lit on the White House grounds, at the Ellipse during the eight-day Jewish holiday. Festivities at the lighting ceremony on December 25 include musical performances and hot latkes and donuts.


Fun throughout the Holiday Season!


ZooLights at the National Zooimg_8945

People come from throughout the National Capital Region to celebrate the season with our four-legged friends. The National Zoo presents a seasonal display of thousands of sparkling animated lights, winter-themed crafts, ice sculpting demonstrations, choral groups, and storytellers. November 25, 2016-January 1, 2017, 5-9 p.m.

Festival of Lights

The Washington, D.C. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, also known as the Mormon Temple, draws massive crowds during the Christmas season. Nearly a half million img_3170sparkling Christmas lights add to the magical holiday setting of this impressive church and its surrounding grounds. Local musical groups perform nightly live concerts in the state-of-the-art theater. Runs December 3, 2016 – January 3, 2017.

“Holiday Magic” at the U.S. Botanic Gardens

This unique exhibit features model trains and incredible replicas of Washington, DC’s most famous buildings and monuments and of course all with beautiful flowers! This year, the theme is ” National Parks and Historic Places,” celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act. All of the buildings in the exhibit will be made of real plant materials! November 24, 2016, through January 2, 2017.


Parades & Festivals

Alexandria Scottish Christmas Walk

Old Town Alexandria is overrun with hundreds of Scottish clansmen as they march through the streets with their bagpipes in a traditional holiday parade on the first Saturday in December. The Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend draws as many as 30,000 participants. Weekend events include a children’s craft party with Santa, the Holiday Marketplace, Heather & Greens sales, the Holiday Designer Tour of Homes, the Taste of Scotland – a scotch tasting.

Wolf Trap National Park Holiday Sing-A-Long

Bring the family to sing Christmas carols and Hanukkah songs with the United States Marine Band vocal groups from the metro Washington area. The audience brings bells to ring during the ‘Jing-A-Long’ during the singing of Jingle Bells, and candles to light during the last verse of “Silent Night,” the final song of the program. Admission is free. December 3, 4 p.m.

Middleburg Hunt Christmas Parade

A classic hunt with nearly a hundred horses, riders in red coats and dozens of hounds in the town of Middleburg on December 3. After the Hunt, the Middleburg Christmas Parade will feature holiday floats, marching bands, antique fire trucks, and a few four-legged friends including horses, llamas, and dogs.

Manassas Christmas Parade

Old Town Manassas comes alive on December 3 at 10 a.m.! See amazing floats, live performances, marching bands, giant balloons, and Santa at the Manassas Christmas Parade.

Bethesda Winter Wonderland

The community holiday celebration on December 3, 2016, features a variety of entertainment, a live ice sculpting presentation and a visit from Santa Claus.

Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lightsimg_2054

A variety of festively decorated boats will take to the waters of the Potomac River on the first Saturday in December.  Fifty powerboats and sailboats are expected to participate in the annual Parade of Lights. D.C.’s fireboat, the John Glenn will spout water 70 feet into the air. December 3 at sundown.

Leesburg Holiday Parade and Festival

Enjoy a beautiful Christmas parade featuring Santa and friends on King Street, in the heart of historic Leesburg. December 10, 6 p.m.

Annapolis Christmas Lights Boat Parade

The Eastport Yacht Club Parade of Lights is an annual holiday tradition with boat owners showing off their Christmas light decorations along the Annapolis Harbor. December 10

Santa on the Water

This unusual annual event features a water-skiing Santa, a jet-skiing Grinch, flying elves and Frosty the Snowman performing along the Potomac River. December 24, 12:30 pm rain or shine.


Ring in 2017!

The City of Fairfax hosts a family friendly evening of healthy fun on December 31st. The Fairfax Four Miler supports the Fairfax Police Youth Club. Race time is 6:00 p.m. followed by an award ceremony at 8:00 p.m. The post-race party will include food and entertainment.

First Night Alexandria will feature musical performances at indoor venues throughout Old Town Alexandria. At midnight a beautiful display of fireworks over the Potomac River will delight attendees. Family Friendly.

Similar family-friendly events celebrating the New Year are held in Falls Church, Winchester, Fredericksburg, Williamsburg, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville, Virginia.   Annapolis, Maryland, also hosts live entertainment and fireworks.

If you are stationed in the DC area or are headed this way on your next PCS, visit for all the latest happenings, base housing info, neighborhood info, school ratings, realtor and moving company recommendations.