How about playing Santa to the most important person on your gift list--you! Break from tradition and celebrate the holidays in the nation's capital. You heard me right. Put down the turkey baster and reindeer ears, pack some mistletoe in your long johns and head for D.C.

It's not too late to plan a getaway to the national's capital before St. Nick's arrival. Rumor has it he's a wiz at navigating the fire escapes of D.C.'s hotels, which are atypically quiet in December and January.

As one would expect, Washington is bedecked in miles of twinkling lights and evergreen garlands. But she's also sporting a costume au natural for the holidays. For the first time in years, Mother Nature gifted us with an early snowfall that may be around well into the new year. After a searingly uncomfortable summer that sported triple-digit temperatures, 30 feels downright refreshing. If you've never gazed through snowflaked lashes across the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, you've missed a major Kodak moment. With all due respect, the scene outdoes Currier, Ives and Grandma Moses.

Lucky for you, Washington is on slow speed now, mostly because Congress enjoys an extended recess over the holidays. (Although, some maintain Congress is recessed even when they're in session.) So you may miss slurping Senate Bean Soup with your hometown representatives, but I'm hear to tell you that trade-offs abound.

Short of ringing bells on downtown sidewalks, hotels are pulling out the stops to pull in prospective visitors. In fact, at some properties, Fido and Miss Kitty are welcome. Pets aside, you'll find big breaks on rooms; packages that include reduced-rate meals and/or theater tickets; and perks for families such as free food for your kids and reduced or free admissions to private museums.

Speaking of museums, the Smithsonian museums are all free. That's right, no need to whip out the plastic to enjoy the National Zoo or the Natural History, Air and Space, and American History museums. And the Kennedy Center hosts free concerts and performances daily at 6pm on its Millennium Stage, as well as elsewhere in its many theaters. If there's another world-class city offering free admission to its top museums and cultural institutions, I haven't found it. And if you're traveling with kids, you can eat on the cheap in the museum's fast food eateries.

Getting around the District is a piece of (fruit)cake. Walking is still the best way to view the nation's capital. Since most of the major sights cluster around the Mall, getting from place to place is a breeze, even in nippy weather. Just be sure to pack clothing that you can layer, a hat and gloves, and boots or thick-soled shoes. If you're going farther afield, you'll stay warm and dry on Metro, which whisks riders around the city on five lines to stations that are rarely more than three minutes apart.

What are you waiting for? Easter? When a room may cost you double and buses line up three deep outside attractions? How much will you really miss toiling over a hot stove and sweeping up spruce needles?

Feast on the following sampling of the smorgasbord that Washington, D.C. serves up during the holidays. For more information, visit: (Note: Events are ongoing through January 1, 2003 and admission is charged unless otherwise noted. Since changes are inevitable, please verify dates and times for the latest information.

To Do and See

Take a spin at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden ice rink, set among works by major 20th century sculptors. Skate rentals and snacks are available. 6th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, tel. 202/737-4215, Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial.

Savor the Holiday Sweets! exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden. Amid seasonal plants, topiaries and natural confections in the Conservatory, drool over the Candy Cane Forest and M&M's that flow through Candy Creek. Free. 100 Maryland Ave. SW (at foot of Capitol Hill), tel. 202/225-8333, Metro: Federal Center SW.

Watch the largest portable Gage G model train in the world wind through Norwegian mountains and fjords. Free. Union Station. 40 Massachusetts Ave. NE, tel. 202/289-1908, Metro: Union Station.

Enjoy cookies and hot cider around a bonfire at Mount Vernon then tour the riverfront estate, dressed up GW-style for the holidays. Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens (about 16 miles south of D.C.), tel. 703/780-2000,

Oh, Christmas Tree...

District of Columbia Holiday Tree features decorations by D.C. schoolchildren. Located at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Ave, NW between 13th & 14th Sts. Free, tel. 202/638-3232, Metro: Metro Center or Federal Triangle.

The National Christmas Tree/Pageant of Peace includes 56 trees representing all states, territories and the District of Columbia and evening musical performances. Located at The Ellipse (behind the White House). Free, Metro: Metro Center or Federal Triangle.

Capitol Christmas Tree, this year a 70-foot spruce from Oregon, lights up the West Lawn (facing the Lincoln Memorial) of the U.S. Capitol. Free, Metro: Capitol South or Union Station.

Animated Holiday Window Displays and Lights brighten downtown storefronts. Free at F St. NW between 11th & 15th Sts, tel. 202/638-3232, Metro: Metro Center.

The Christmas Story in Art is a free and fascinating 50-minute tour of works with holiday themes in the National Gallery. Meet in main floor Rotunda (most days Dec. 17-27 at 1 p.m.) National Gallery of Art West Building, 6th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, tel. 202/737-4215, Metro: Archives-Navy Memorial.

George Catlin and His Indian Gallery is the most comprehensive display (more than 400 paintings and artifacts) of Catlin's work in over a century. Through January 20 at the Renwick Gallery of Art, Pennsylvania Ave. & 17th St. NW, tel. 202/357-2700, Metro: Farragut West.

Experience a Victorian Christmas at the Heurich House Museum, a 31-room Victorian mansion built in the late 19th century. Free at 1307 New Hampshire Ave. NW, tel. 202/785-2068, Metro: Dupont Circle.

Celebrate Christmas on S Street at the Woodrow Wilson House Museum, done up in the style of the former president who resided here in the early 1920's. 2340 S St. NW, tel. 202/387-4062, Metro: Dupont Circle.

Self-guided visits of various historic sites on the Historic Alexandria Candlelight Tours allow visitors to peak at Christmas as it was celebrated in 18th and 19th century Alexandria (Dec. 13-14, 7-9:30pm), tel. 703/838-4242,

Music and Dance

Snap your fingers at the Jazz Café where musicians play from 6 to 10 on Friday nights. Cash bar. No cover, no minimum at the National Museum of Natural History, 10th St. and Constitution Ave, tel. 202/357-2700, Metro: Federal Triangle. Also, Preservation Hall Jazz Band: A Creole Christmas is New Orleans jazz at its best and purest performing on Dec. 14.

The Washington Ballet's Nutcracker delights through Dec. 22 at the Warner Theatre, 1299 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, tel. 202/362-3606, Metro: Metro Center.

The Klezmer Nutcracker is a unique rendition of Tchaikovsky by the Boston-based Shirim Klezmer Orchestra (Dec. 21-22). DC Jewish Community Center. 1529 16th St. NW, tel. 202/518-9400 x254, Metro: Dupont Circle.

The esteemed Bolshoi Ballet presents its version of the holiday classic (Dec. 11-15) at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW, tel. 202/467-4600, Metro: Foggy Bottom-GWU.

Other seasonal performances at the Kennedy Center include:

  • The NSO Pops rings in the holiday season with a Happy Holidays concert (Dec. 11-14)
  • Messiah Sing-Along performances usually sell out. Audience-participation is de rigeur, or you'll find coal in your stocking (Dec. 14-23)
  • Choral Arts Society: Christmas Music features traditional music for all ages and a sing-along finale (Dec. 15-20)
  • National Symphony Orchestra: Messiah is usually SRO so don't dilly-dally. (Dec. 21-22)
  • Spirit of Kwanzaa is captured by former Dance Theatre of Harlem principal Fabian Barnes and dancers from his Dance Institute of Washington in a multimedia event (Dec. 28-29)


Washington Capitals. NHL action is ongoing with Jaromir Jagr. For a schedule, visit MCI Center. 601 F. St. NW. Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Washington Wizards. Catch NBA basketball with Michael Jordan. For a schedule, visit MCI Center, 601 F. St. NW. Metro: Gallery Place/Chinatown.

Theater & Comedy

Capitol Steps. Every Saturday this hilarious troupe of political satirists, Congressional staffers-turned comedians, performs. Tickets at tel. 202/432-SEAT or Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Metro: Federal Triangle.

A Christmas Carol. Ghosts of Christmases past, present and future warm even cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge (through Dec. 31). Call at 800/955-5566 or 703/218-6500. Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW, tel. 202/426-6924, Metro: Metro Center.

Much Ado About Nothing. Satire lends spice to passion that's steeped in deception (thorugh Jan. 5). Discounts of 20% off tickets for all but Fri.-Sat. performances. The Shakespeare Theatre, 450 7th St. NW, tel. 202/547-1122, Metro: Archives-Navy Mem'l.

The Nutcracker. This puppet-version of the Nut by Green Parrot Puppet Theatre is a guaranteed kid-pleaser (through Jan. 12). Classika Theatre, 4041 S. 28th St., Arlington, VA, tel. 703/824-6200,


In addition to the comprehensive listing of accommodations online here, there are some current hotel specials worthy of note:

Econolodge Reagan National Airport: Internet User's Rate of just under $54 per night for a double room. For a wider selection of chains and locations, go to

Hotel Helix: Rates starting from $89 a night--weekends included--at this brand-spanking-new boutique hotel just off Logan Circle. Ask for "Winterfest" rates. (tel. 800/706-1202,

Georgetown Suites: Its "Baby it's Cold Outside" sale lets you pay $125 for the first night, then the dollar equivalent of the actual temperature at check-in. It's currently 33 at the time of this writing, so stay two nights at $79, three nights at $64 night, etc. (tel. 800/348-7203,

For more information check our free online coverage at or visit the Washington, D.C. Convention and Tourism Corporation Web site at:

Beth Rubin will be celebrating the holidays in Washington, D.C. for the 39th consecutive year. She is the author of Frommer's Washington, D.C. With Kids, The Complete Idiot's Travel Guide to Washington, D.C. and Washington, D.C. For Dummies. Her first novel, Split Ends, is available at,, and booksellers nationwide. Visit her Web site: