sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

December 22, 2009

my d.c.: virtual advent tour
posted by soe 2:38 pm

Virtual Advent TourThis is my first year participating in the Virtual Advent Tour and, like many others, I had a hard time deciding how to narrow the focus of my post. At first, I thought songs — particularly some of the more unusual pieces — because Christmas is inseparable from its music for my family and me. But coming this late in the month, a lot of other people have covered music. Although I have enjoyed each and every link and video you’ve offered up, I wanted something a little different.

And then I realized that living in Washington, D.C., gives me a rather unique perspective.

So, I offer you a tour of some of the District’s seasonal sights*. Lace up your sturdiest walking shoes (boots might be a wise choice after this weekend’s 20 inches of snowfall) and let’s head down to the National Mall:

National Christmas TreeYou may have seen President Obama and the First Family light the National Christmas Tree on tv. This is it in person, taken over the weekend:

The lights weren’t turned on during Saturday’s blizzard, but that’s really just as well. They’re all on a hair-net type contraption that’s draped over a perfectly lovely real tree and it looks hideously ugly when it’s lit.

Without the lights, it’s just a nice tree with some decorations on it. Simple and understated. So, really, this is the National Christmas Tree at its very best.

Did you know there’s also a National Menorah? It’s also on the Ellipse in front of the White House, and a new “flame” is lit at sundown each night of Hanukkah.

Menorah and Washington Monument

About a mile and a half down the National Mall (past the several of the Smithsonian museums and close to the Capitol), sits the U.S. Botanic Garden. Each Christmas, they set up displays throughout the building and then create a train wonderland in one of the rooms.

Last year, you could find a lot of literary references within the display. Here we have the three little pigs:

Three Little Pigs

The trains cross a large room and cover the vertical as well as horizontal space. Here are two of the train trestles running up above everyone’s heads:

Train Trestles

It wouldn’t be a Christmas train display without a stop at the North Pole:

Elf Dorm

Much like their full-scale relatives, model trains come in a variety of sizes and stop at all sorts of depots. Here’s a smaller one:

One Car Train

Everything that isn’t a train is made from natural, plant-based fibers to fit with the mission of the botanic garden. You get a really great view of that by looking at one of the woodland spirits:

Woodland Spirit

Head back outside and admire the magnificent halls of Congress just up the hill. Did you know that the more than half million people who live in Washington, D.C., have no representation there? And did you also know that Congress has the right to overturn any District law within a certain number of days after it’s enacted by our local government? (Sorry for the civics lesson. Voting rights and home rule are very important to those of us who live here in D.C. regardless of the season.)

Walk north across the Mall and you’ll reach Union Station, the District’s Beaux Arts-style train station (and fancy shopping mall).

Trio of Wreaths

Every Christmas for the past 13 years, the Norwegian embassy has held court at Union Station, decorating a Christmas tree as a symbol of friendship between the two countries:

Union Station Christmas Tree

They also create a model train village:

Winter Scene

It’s a more realistic approach to a village than the one you saw at the Botanic Garden.

Northwestern Corner

On Sunday, when we went, the trains weren’t turned on. Someone remarked it must have been out of sympathy for all those Amtrak trains also not running after the blizzard.

Train Village

There are, however, a lot of sweet details, like these sledders and the Coca Cola bears:


Polar Bears

Head downstairs and hop on Metro’s red line. You can get off at the Gallery Station stop, where the Holiday Market is now in its second year outside the National Portrait Gallery.

Holiday Market

There are craft vendors, musical performances, and local food vendors (including what I refer to as the dime bag — a $2 bag of freshly cooked mini doughnuts that you can top with powdered sugar and cinnamon). This is a great spot to do a little last minute shopping without the hassle of heading out to the suburban malls.

Pretty Wares

A few blocks away is the old Hecht’s department store building, now a Macy’s. Each Christmas, they decorate their windows in a New York-style display. These were a couple windows from last year:

Making Tinsel

Snow Creation

(This year’s window displays detail how your letters get to Santa.)

Scoot back down to the Metro, but this time take the blue or orange line from Metro Center to Foggy Bottom, from which it’s just a short walk to the Kennedy Center.

Crowds to Hear the TubasThe Kennedy Center offers a wide variety of Christmas and seasonal performances, from dance to theater to music. Some performances are very fancy and tickets can be expensive and hard to come by. However, one of the Kennedy Center’s missions is to bring arts to the masses, so every night at 6 p.m. they have a free performance of some kind on their Millennium Stage.

One of their annual Millennium Stage events is Merry TubaChristmas. (If you follow that link, click the top link on the right side of the page to hear the hour-long concert.)

Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. A sing-along performance of Christmas carols by tuba, sousaphone, and euphonium players. I have been meaning to catch the performance for years and last week Rudi and I finally succeeded.

Tuba Performance

Can you see the front of the shot, where the players are so abundant that they don’t all fit on the stage? They account for the first several rows of the floor, too.

The 36th annual event brought together 45 players from all over the region, most of whom have only practiced together for the hour right before the show. The performers range in age from 10 to 85!

The show is a blast, and I definitely recommend you check it out if you’re in the region the night of the performance.

Tuba Players Heading Home

Well, that’s it, folks! I hope you’ve enjoyed wandering around D.C. with me to catch some of our sights of Christmas. This was only the tip of what the District has to offer, so maybe we’ll revisit this topic next year to see some of the other fun things from around the area.

Don’t forget to stop by the other blogs participating in today’s stop on the Virtual Advent Tour: A Piece of My Mind, Book Obsessed, and Gaskella.

If these shots weren’t enough for you, you can see additional Christmas in D.C. photos here.

Thanks for stopping by and Happy Holidays!

* Photos of the National Christmas Tree, National Menorah, Merry TubaChristmas, and Union Station are all from this season. The Downtown Market, Macy’s windows, and the Botanic Garden are all from Christmas ’08, just in case you locals were hoping to see the exact same displays I did.

Category: dc life. There is/are 7 Comments.

What beautiful pictures. Thank you so much for sharing your experience I loved the Menorah. I had not idea. I wonder why all those Christmas specials never share that. Merry Christmas

Comment by krissi 12.22.09 @ 3:49 pm

Sprite – this was glorious! Thank you for taking me on such a locals-know-the-best-places tour. And my feet aren’t even tired…sweet!

Comment by Julia Smith 12.22.09 @ 3:52 pm

Nicely done. It put me in a festive mood.

Comment by DOD 12.22.09 @ 7:09 pm

I really enjoyed your walking tour of Washington!! I love the Norwegian tree, it’s beautiful, and the train villages and I really want to go shopping in that market! lol Thank you for sharing how Washington celebrates Christmas. Happy Holidays to you!

Comment by Susan 12.23.09 @ 12:09 am

Gorgeous pictures – especially the National Christmas Tree and the train station (the real one I mean). We have a Norwegian Christmas tree in London too, in Trafalgar Square.

The letters to Santa shop window is lovely. I’ve always made a point at looking at the pre-Christmas shop windows in London over the years, but Fortnum and Mason’s and sometimes Hamley’s are the only really nice ones. The rest just shove in as many products as possible. Someone needs to tell Harrods and Selfridges in particular that elegance is refusal.

Comment by Miss Moppet 12.23.09 @ 5:25 pm

what lovely pictures! It has been years since I have visited our nation’s capital, but I absolutely loved looking at the familiar – and not so familiar sights.

Comment by Molly 12.23.09 @ 10:58 pm


Thank you so much for posting, and for participating in the Virtual Advent tour.

Comment by Marg 12.26.09 @ 10:58 pm