25 Days of Christmas Celebrations: Free – $10

Crowds on the Ellipse in Washington, D.C., wat...

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We are lucky to live in the Washington, DC area.  There are so many wonderful things to do around the holidays, and many of them are free.  If you plan it right and get your shopping done early, you never have to enter a a shopping mall at all in December, unless you really want to, of course.

Like many of you, I am on a budget.   Here are 25 things to do for the holidays that are free or cost less than $10. I intentionally picked events that tend not to be crowded, or dates and times where I have experienced fewer crowds, whenever possible.

Thursday, Dec 1. The line to see him IS really long.  But if you don’t have to speak to the man in the red suit in person, and can just peek in, poke your head in to see the real Santa Claus at Merrifield Garden Center in Merrifield, VA.  He does a little press conference (with a chimney as a podium) and poem and song performance at 5 p.m. that is not to be missed.  Then check out their beautifully decorated trees, inside.

Friday, December 2. Put on some holiday music and trim your Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 3. Bundle up and attend the Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights, which gets underway at 6 p.m. FREE

Sunday, December 4.  Wolf Trap Sing-a-Long 4 p.m. Gates open at 2:30 p.m. for parking; no metro bus.  Vienna, VA. FREE

Monday, December 5. Send Christmas cards to 20 friends and relatives($8.80 for 20 stamps; cards for $1/pack at Target).  Would you like to send a Christmas Card to the President?  Address it: The President, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500.

Tuesday, December 6. Today is St. Nicholas Day.  Treat a child, or your inner child, to a video of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

Wednesday, December 7. Take $10 and buy a few oranges, nylon Christmas ribbon (craft store) and a bottle of whole cloves (look at the dollar store or CVS for a big bottle that is inexpensive) and make Pomander Balls.  Poke the cloves in the oranges and thread the ribbon through the orange.  Nylon ribbon is important because it will not rot.  Display in a bowl or hang for scent.

Thursday, December 8. Bundle up and walk down King Street in Old Town Alexandria and look at the window decorations at night. Don’t forget to stop in at the Christmas Attic to see the amazing ornaments.  You can nip into La Madeleine or Starbucks on King Street and get something hot to drink (like peppermint hot chocolate!) if you get cold.

Friday, December 9. Relax at home.  Put on some holiday music and bake and freeze a batch or two of Christmas cookies.  I like the Betty Crocker cookie mixes that come in a bag, and they go on sale frequently.  Some people like to give cookies as gifts but I also think they’re nice to have on hand when people come over. Or have a cookie swap.

Saturday, December 10.   Enjoy a concert of carols in the National Gallery of Art, 1:30 and 2:30 p.m. Santa arrives by fire truck at 4 p.m. in the Market Commons (Clarendon area) in Arlington, VA.

Sunday, December 11.  Attend an old-fashioned Wassail at Claude Moore Colonial Farm at 1 p.m. Check out the Gatehouse shop for gifts, which is open 10 a.m – 5 pm.

Monday, December 12. The Willard Hotel has free concerts everyday in December through the 23rd in their lobby from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.  This might be a good night to go.

Tuesday, December 13.  Take the metro to Foggy Bottom and take the Kennedy Center Shuttle to see a free Millenium Stage holiday concert.  Tonight, the show is provided by the Montgomery County Public Schools High Schools Senior Honors Jazz Ensemble.  They’re great!  If you can’t make it to the Kennedy Center, you can watch it live online.

Wednesday, December 14. Pile in the car and drive around to look at Christmas lights.

Thursday, December 15. Collect food from home and make a donation to your local food bank.  Food for Others accepts donations from 9:30 to 5:30.  Their address is 2938 Prosperity Avenue, Fairfax, VA 22031, right off Lee Highway in Merrifield, Virginia.  They accept

  • Canned meats – ham, turkey, chicken, tuna, and beef
  • Peanut butter and jelly/jam
  • Canned soup, stew, and chili
  • Cereal
  • Vegetables – fresh (in season) or canned
  • Fruit – fresh (in season) or canned
  • Beans – dried or canned
  • Macaroni and Cheese
  • Boxed Meals
  • Pasta
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Rice
  • Fruit Juice
  • Coffee and tea

Friday, December 16. Relax at home with a cup of peppermint tea, put on a fireplace DVD (these are as low as a dollar at Target), and read a classic Christmas story or holiday romance from the library.

Saturday, December 17. Go see the wreaths on the tombstones at Arlington Cemetery and pay your respects to the fallen.  Tour Arlington House between 9:30 am and 4:3o pm. FREE

Sunday, December 18. Go see the free holiday model train displays and Season’s Greenings, a display of seasonal plants, at the U.S. Botanic Gardens. Opens at 10 a.m., FREE.  This event is also open on Christmas Day, if you are looking for something to do.

On the way home, stop at the grocery store and pick up a poinsettia for yourself or for a homeb0und friend — they can be as inexpensive at this time of year.  They don’t like too much water, so be careful not to waterlog the plant.  Place near a sunny window, not too close to a direct heat source.

Monday, December 19.  Go see the Zoo Lights at the National Zoo. 5 – 9 p.m. I actually prefer the Cleveland Park stop rather than the Woodley Park/Zoo metro stop. FREE

Tuesday, December 20.  Go see the National Christmas Tree and state trees on the Ellipse in front of the White House. Stay for the performance. FREE (Metro: Federal Triangle)

Wednesday, December 21. Invite friends over for a holiday open house.  My favorite, bargain bubbly, Francois Montand Blanc de Blancs Brut, is about $10/bottle.

Thursday, December 22. Go to 7-11 and buy a cup of hot chocolate or coffee.  Take it to a cold Salvation Army bell ringer and put a dollar in the kettle.

Today is the last day of school before Winter break for Fairfax County Public School students, and school lets out 2 hours early.  Remember your child’s teachers and bus drivers with a card or small gift.

Friday, December 23. Relax at home with some egg nog or mulled cider.  Nutcracker Ballet tickets tend to be expensive — but you could rent the Nutcracker Ballet instant video for $1.99 on Amazon.com.

Saturday, December 24. There’s a free concert at the Kennedy Center today at Noon.  But it may be very crowded.  If you’d rather avoid crowds, go anywhere but the mall or grocery store today.  How about ice-skating at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden or Pentagon Row?  Does Chinese take-out sound good?  It goes great with champagne and your favorite movie.

Sunday, December 25. Put on your Sunday best and attend the afternoon Vespers service at the National Cathedral (please don’t forget to remove your hat and speak softly in church). $5 is the suggested donation for people who tour the National Cathedral in a secular way.  You will also need money to park in the garage.  Stay afterwards for the organ recital.  If church isn’t your thing, the Kennedy Center has a free jazz concert at 6 pm today.


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