Holiday Light Displays: A Cure for Cabin Fever

This year has been unlike any other in memory. It’s safe to say, as the song goes, we all “need a little Christmas.” Luckily, there are many options to get out and enjoy some fresh winter air, either socially distanced or from the comfort of your car. For a little holiday spirit, here are nine great light displays in and just outside the District.

In the District:

National Christmas Tree

Through December

The President’s Park at the Ellipse

While the 98th National Christmas Tree lighting was celebrated virtually this year, visitors are still welcome to visit the Ellipse (socially distanced, of course) to view the tree. There are also 56 smaller trees surrounding the National Tree, representing Washington, D.C., and every state and territory in the U.S. The smaller trees are decorated with ornaments designed by students from across the country. Also, if you don’t want to venture outdoors, the 2020 tree lighting will be available all season long to stream on demand.


Light Yards

Through Jan. 10

The Yards Park

355 Water St. SE

Now in its fifth year, Light Yards is back at the Yards Park in Southeast D.C. Despite COVID-19, Light Yards will continue, albeit safely and socially distant. The annual holiday installation features “Stars” by Australian-based light sculptors Amigo & Amigo. The gigantic stars will feature dancing lights and festive music for a socially distanced walk-through, nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. Area restaurants are also featuring seasonal specials to pair with Light Yards.


DC Holiday Lights

Through Dec. 31

Various neighborhoods

A dozen neighborhoods around D.C., including Dupont Circle, Woodley Park and Cleveland Park, are offering light displays and decor for the holiday season. From now until New Year’s Eve, you can visit the neighborhoods listed on the website to check out their decorated corridors. Later, you can cast your vote for your favorite decorations. There’s also a scavenger hunt for prizes for those energetic enough to visit all the communities. DC Holiday Lights is coordinated by District Bridges, a nonprofit with a mission to enrich neighborhoods with community engagement and economic development.


U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree 

Through the holiday season  

U.S. Capitol

The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree has been a tradition since 1964, when Speaker of the House John W. McCormack asked Architect of the Capitol J. George Stewart to place a Christmas tree on the grounds of the Capitol. After a wind storm in the spring of 1967 caused the tree to die the following year, it was removed. Since 1970, the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has provided the tree every year.


In Maryland:

Winter Lights Festival

Through New Year’s Eve

Seneca Creek State Park

11950 Clopper Road

Gaithersburg, Maryland

The Winter Lights Festival is a 3.5-mile drive that takes viewers through Seneca Creek State Park, past over 450 sparkling displays and illuminated trees. The organizers of the event even have a clever, tongue-in-cheek slogan: “Socially distancing since 1995.” The festival has advance online sales at its website or you can buy tickets on-site (masks required at the admission booth) for $15 to $30, depending on the size of your vehicle.


In Virginia:

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights

Through Jan. 3

9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court

Vienna, Virginia

The Meadowlark Botanical Garden’s Winter Walk of Lights is currently in its ninth year. The walk is just over a half-mile long, a one-way route illuminated by thousands of twinkling holiday lights. This year, all tickets must be purchased online in advance. Due to strict social distancing guidelines, guests are asked to honor their timed ticket; they will not be admitted early. It typically takes NOVA Parks volunteers, contractors and Meadowlark staff three months to complete the displays throughout the garden.


Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights

Through Jan. 10

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

1800 Lakeside Ave.

Richmond, Virginia

Travel just a few hours outside D.C. to Richmond, Virginia, to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s holiday light display. Dubbed the Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights, the annual tradition features lights, decorations, outdoor model trains and food and hot chocolate for purchase. All displays are outdoors to comply with CDC pandemic measures. Also, prepurchased tickets with a half-hour arrival window are required for all visitors, including members. Masks are, of course, also required.


Mount Vernon’s Winter Glow

Dec. 11 to 13 and 26 to 28

3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway

Mount Vernon, Virginia

Mount Vernon is getting into the holiday spirit with a handful of evenings of twinkling winter lights from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. The estate will be lit up with multicolored lights and holiday patterns, Christmas carolers will make their way through the grounds and there will also be an 18th-century winter encampment. Food and beverages will be available for purchase and, of course, social distancing will be in place. Face coverings are necessary to enter and hand-sanitizing stations will be placed throughout the estate.


Bull Run Festival of Lights

Through Jan. 10

7700 Bull Run Drive

Centreville, Virginia

The Bull Run Festival of Lights features two-and-a-half miles of glittering lights. The route is traveled via car, with motorists advised to turn off their headlights and enjoy the warm glow of the lights. This year, the festival added three extra weeks to the show to accommodate those with cabin fever due to the pandemic. It is being promoted as an ideal socially distant family activity.


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