As Washington is a city of trees, it is a city of churches and markets. The atmosphere of Christmas is certainly alive in Washington — all you have to do is look for it.
In the nation’s capital, you’re never too far removed from a house of worship, and all the world’s denominations are here. Most religions will tell you that God is everywhere; in Washington, that’s self-evident.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, you may be touched by the holiday spirit by simply walking into a church, no matter your faith. They’re not hard to find. Some of them are quite famous. If you’re driving up Wisconsin Avenue, it’s impossible to miss the spires of the National Cathedral, where presidents and sundry of the city’s famous leaders and notables have been celebrated over history and time, and where Christmas, in an ecumenical fashion, has a spectacular presence every year. Around the corner, more or less, are both a Greek Orthodox and a Russian Orthodox cathedral.
Churches have bazaars, they have wassailing and Christmas carol singing and charitable events and special services. Just off Connecticut Avenue, there’s St. Matthews Cathedral, a spectacularly styled house of worship where we have of late begun frequenting the 10 a.m. Latin mass. The pull of ritual is very strong here, but so is the appeal of a community of visitors and worshippers.
Churches are soothing and moving all at the same time: the slow processional at the beginning and end, the embrace of neighbors, the homilies. They are antidotes to the season’s hectic pace, the pressure to find gifts, the busy-ness of it all.
A different kind of shopping from the kind we do at CVS, the corner Safeway, Macy’s, the big-box stores and even our favorite boutiques and specialty shops takes place at holiday markets. Now in its 12th year, the one and only Downtown Holiday Market is located on the F Street sidewalk in front of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Not only are there musical performers, but there are some 150 artisans, crafters, artists, potters, painters, designers, quilters, knitters and jewelry makers from all over the area.