Georgetown Family Holiday Traditions

The Putalas | Matt Mendelsohn

We asked a few Georgetown families to talk about what they love to do around Christmas or Hanukkah, and what it means to them. The village is quieter, easier to traverse – all the better to appreciate all that you and yours have. It is indeed a special time of year.

Quiet, Peaceful Neighborhood

“One of the things I like the most is how quiet it feels,” said Liz Barentzen of Christmas in Georgetown. “A lot of people leave the city, students are gone. On Christmas Eve, when we take our walk, it feels peaceful and light.” Liz and Steven Barentzen met in New York City and were married there before moving to Washington, D.C., in 2004. Their two young sons, Cash and Wesley, were born in D.C.

Each recurring holiday season, the family of four upholds many traditions — from going to the National Christmas Tree together, to ice skating at Washington Harbour and having dinner at Founding Farmers. One of their most treasured traditions comes on Christmas Eve. “I have a Manhattan clam chowder recipe that was my great-grandmother’s,” said Liz. “We have that for an early supper, and then we walk through the neighborhood looking at the lights and stopping for a few parties.”

Later, Liz and Steven have some of their close friends over for an evening get-together and celebration. “Christmas is the time for family and reflection, togetherness, warmth,” said Liz, and this Barentzen family tradition certainly exudes all of these things.

The Barentzens are involved with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. ASPCA was the first humane society established in North America, and today it is one of the largest in the world. The family first got involved when their dog passed away shortly after moving to D.C., and it continues to make a donation every year.

Hanukkah, Christmas and Martin’s Tavern

“It’s the holiday cheer of our community that we like best,” said Allison Putala. Her Georgetown block has more than 10 kids who are under 10 years old, plus a host of other fun and lively neighbors.

Growing elsewhere (Atlanta for her, Amherst for him), Allison and Chris Putala met in D.C. and were married at the Mellon Auditorium in September 2008. They have lived in Georgetown for the past eight years and have two children: a daughter, Caroline, who is in preschool and their son Jack, who is 2.

The Putala family mixes the traditions of Hanukkah and Christmas each holiday season. From making a great grandmother’s special dip to reading “A Child’s Christmas In Wales,” the family fosters the holiday spirit, sharing traditions and making memories that their children will remember throughout their lives.

One of these traditions includes going to Martin’s Tavern during the holidays, where little Caroline Putala has a special “Everybody Loves Martin’s Tavern” song for the occasion and is a popular patron in her own right. Like the Barentzens, the family also enjoys going ice skating at the Georgetown waterfront and having dinner at Founding Farmers. Allison is on the board of the N Street Village, a women’s homeless shelter in D.C. that gets women out of the cycle of abuse and prepares them for the job market.

Breakfast With Santa, Noche Buena

“Christmas is a time to be thankful for all the things that we have and to spread goodness. One of our favorite events to go to is the Breakfast with Santa at Volta Park,” said Kristen, who with her husband John has lived in Georgetown since 2001. They will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in 2015. Kristen is on the board of Friends of Volta Park in addition to Baby Love, an organization that provides baby gear and supplies to mothers and children in need.

The couple has two children, Ian, 8, and Kara, 6, and the family has a slew of special holiday traditions. With two children under the age of ten, the holidays are especially sweet for the Lever family.

“On Christmas Eve after dinner the kids put on their plaid PJs and we sit in front of the fire, and John reads ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ ” said Kristen. One of the family’s happiest Christmases in recent memory occurred last year when the Levers moved into a new house in Georgetown. The house was roomier and allowed the grandparents and additional family to stay over for the holidays.

Christmas in the Lever house is a cultural fusion, thanks to John’s Chilean heritage. In Chile, they celebrate “Noche Buena,” the Chilean version of Christmas Eve. Mixing the two styles of celebration and customs together is something that gives the Levers their own flair each Christmas.

D.C. is filled with magical corners and specially decorated places during the Yuletide. For the Levers, one of their favorites is Book Hill Park in Georgetown. They enjoy looking down at the hustle and bustle on the streets, the glowing Georgetown Public Library and all the decorated storefronts. They also love the Georgetown waterfront with its wash of lights and the Kennedy Center aglow on the river.

When asked what Christmas means, the Putalas summed it up in one word: “Family.”

Slow Down, Shop Local
Photo by Erin Schaff.

“Christmas to me is about spending time with family and taking time to slow down and enjoy all that we have,” said Leslie Maysak, who with her husband Paul has lived in Georgetown for 15 years. Today, the couple has two sons, Jack and Liam, 11 and 8, respectively.

Every Christmas, the family of four loves going to the holiday trains exhibit at the U.S. Botanical Gardens, and they pick up their Christmas tree near their house. “We always get our tree at The Georgetown Visitation School,” said Leslie, adding that it is carried to their home in a little wagon. “We love the small town, village feel of Georgetown,” she added, shedding light on the enviable quaintness that attracts people near and far to our tree lined streets and cobbled roads.

With its bountiful garlands and famed tables aglow, the Maysaks treasure their time at Martin’s Tavern during the holidays. The family is a big proponent of shopping local during Christmas. “We try to do as much Christmas shopping as we can in Georgetown,” said Leslie. And with the evident commitment to their neighborhood, it should come as no surprise that the Maysaks also enjoy giving back. The family supports the Georgetown Ministry Center in addition to picking up hams for the homeless food drive during the holiday season.

Please let us know about your own family traditions. Email We will put the most interesting on our website before Santa Claus arrives.

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