Category Archives: Holiday Fun

Plan Your Week: Events November 14 – 20

Photo by ASHISH SHARMA on Pexels.com

Monday, November 14

  • Sew a Gift Bag. 2 pm – 3:30 pm. Sewing machines and material provided. Sherwood Regional Library, Alexandria, VA. Adults. Free but registration required.
  • Pumpkin Crafting. 7 pm – 8:30 pm. Great Falls Library, Great Falls, VA. Teens and Adults. Free, no registration required.

Tuesday, November 15 National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day

Wednesday, November 16

  • Make Holiday Jewelry. 3 pm – 5 pm. Kings Park Library, Alexandria, VA. Adults. Free but registration required.

Thursday, November 17

  • Leonids Meteor Showers

Friday, November 18

  • Tysons Corner Mall Tree Lighting 6 pm. Tysons Corner Center Plaza (outdoors), Vienna.

Saturday, November 19

  • Letters to Santa. Write and decorate a letter to Santa (free, but children and adults must register). Reston Community Center (Hunters Woods) 9:30 am – 11:00 am.
  • Fairfax City 36th Annual Holiday Craft Show. 10 am – 5 pm. Fairfax High School, 3501 Lion Run, Fairfax, VA. $5 admission fee.
  • Ornament Painting. 1:30 pm – 2 pm. Tysons-Pimmit Library, Vienna. All ages, free, no registration required.

Sunday, November 20 President Biden’s Birthday

  • Fairfax City 36th Annual Holiday Craft Show. 10 am – 3 pm. Fairfax High School, 3501 Lion Run, Fairfax, VA. $5 admission fee.
  • Make Room for Turkeys. Ellanor C. Lawrence Nature Center, Chantilly, VA. Learn about the role of turkeys in different cultures and how habitat restoration helps them prosper. Ages 7 to Adult. 3 pm – 4 pm. $8/person; register in advance.

Cool Yule Tip: To send a Christmas Card to President Biden and First Lady Biden, be sure to put your name and return address on the envelope and address it to: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20500. If you are lucky, you might receive a Christmas card in return!

Cool Yule Review: Kings Dominion Winterfest

You might be familiar with the Virginia theme park, Kings Dominion. Located in Doswell, Virginia, just outside of Ashland and about 20 minutes from Richmond, VA, the theme park is transformed into a winter wonderland called Winterfest for evening visits only from late November to New Year’s Eve (see 2022 dates and hours below). I highly recommend a visit this holiday season.

Winterfest Schedule

November 25 – December 18 (Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays) – 5 pm – 10 pm

December 19 – 30 (Monday – Friday) – 5 pm – 10 pm

(Closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day)

December 31 (New Year’s Eve) – 5 pm – 12:30 a.m.

I visited Winterfest with my family on New Year’s Eve last year. I found a diverse crowd where everyone seemed to be having a good time and no one acted up or was obnoxious.The Kings Dominion staff were friendly, too.

Things to see and do —

  • Strolling around to look at the lights and decorations.
  • Ice skating. We didn’t do that but the ice rink was huge and not crowded at all. I think I would try that next time.
  • Watching and dancing to live music.
  • Watching the modest but fun parade (it still went on even though it was raining!)
  • Viewing the Nativity and visiting the nativity animals in the petting area.
  • Shopping – really decent shopping in the boutiques. Lots of sales. If you are a Snoopy fan, you’ll be very happy. A terrific assortment of Snoopy plush dogs and holiday items.
  • Seeing shows and walk-around characters. Because of Covid, we opted out of the indoor shows but I have heard they are very good, especially the Peanuts progam. There were plenty of entertainers outdoors to see.
  • Riding some of the rides that were open.
  • Reading letters to Santa displayed at the North Pole post office (warning: you may get emotional!)
  • Fireworks (may be just on New Year’s Eve). The best place to watch the fireworks, my sister discovered, was near Candy Apple Grove next to the funnel cake stand there. No crowds and a great view!
Tips
  • Wear good walking shoes! You’ll be covering a lot of ground.
  • Get a gingerbread funnel cake with ice cream (I think it will take 3 people to finish it).
  • If it’s in your budget, splurge on an igloo rental (heated plastic transparent enclosures). If it rains, you have a private heated enclosure that is yours for the night. But there are only a few so you have to reserve them for your date.
Where to Stay
  • KOA Campgrounds offer space for RVs as well as roomy, large cabins. They have also offered shuttle transportation to Kings Dominion. We didn’t stay there because it was sold out.
  • There are lots of hotels in nearby Ashland, which is a quick drive to Kings Dominion.

Busch Gardens Christmas Town vs Kings Dominon Winterfest

There are two outstanding theme parks in Virginia that go all out for Christmas — Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and Kings Dominion in Doswell. Busch Gardens calls their celebration Christmas Town and Kings Dominion’s festival is known as Winterfest.

Both celebrations open this month. Christmas Town is open select days and weekends beginning November 11 and Winterfest is open select days and weekends beginning November 16.

I really like both parks – they offer enchanting holiday experiences that are not to be missed. But which is better? Well, that depends on your preferences…

 

  • Holiday hours – Tie! Because it really depends on when you want to go. Winterfest offers a New Year’s Eve celebration with fireworks which Busch Garden Christmas Town does not. Christmas Town is open until 10 pm on New Year’s Eve but the seasonal offerings are the same as on other days.  On the other hand, Christmas Town is open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while Winterfest is closed. Both parks offer November preview days in November before Thanksgiving, which I highly recommend, as the crowds are typically far less.
  • ShowsChristmas Town wins! The Christmas Town shows are fantastic and there are more of them, including an outdoor figure skating show when it is not too warm for the ice. If you did nothing at Christmas Town but go to shows, I think you would still leave thinking you had enjoyed a very good value for your entertainment dollar. They really get you into the spirit of Christmas. The trick with seeing the shows is to pick up a show schedule just as you enter the park (or download from the website) and plan your visit around the shows (f you like shows, versus rides, that is). It would be really hard to see all the shows in one visit. But you could see all of them in two or more visits, and I’d recommend splitting them up and visiting twice because otherwise, it’s a bit much to take in. Overall, the more relaxed you are about visiting Christmas Town and really taking your time, the better, because there is quite a lot to see and it’s better to have fun than become exhausted and cranky, right? Again, keep in mind that the ice skating show is usually cancelled if it is too warm. So if it is a cold day, definitely make plans to see that one. Show up at least ten minutes before the shows begin to get good seating.Winterfest has fewer shows and most are indoors. I can’t speak to the quality of the indoor shows at Winterfest, since I avoided those during the pandemic, but the musical performances I saw outdoors were entertaining.
  • LightsChristmas Town wins! Both theme parks have enchanting light displays. But Christmas Town’s light displays are more impressive and varied, depending on what section of the park you are visiting. The lights and shows are the major draws for me at Christmas Town.
  • RidesChristmas Town wins! Busch Gardens has more open thrill rides in the winter months. If you love high speed thrill rides, you’d probably prefer Christmas Town to Winterfest. I am not a fan of thrill rides but I am a huge fan of trains. Christmas Town has a full-sized train that moves around the park at a slow pace while passing by outdoor lights. That train ride is such a nice break for your feet! Christmas Town also has a sky ride that gives you a spectacular bird’s eye view of the Christmas lights below. Winterfest does offer some thrill rides and if you enjoy nostalgic, carnival-style rides like Dodge’em cars, swings, carousels and Ferris wheels, you might enjoy the Candy Apple Grove rides at Winterfest. Winterfest also has an excellent children’s rides section.
  • Food: Christmas Town wins! Let me put it like this. Skip the dining plan. The food at both parks is pricey and you’d be better off eating outside of the parks. Christmas Town has more food options than Winterfest, including German fare at Festhaus and smoked meats at Trapper’s.  Christmas Town also has some charming baked items and sweets. The one place I will stop and have a treat in Christmas Town is in France…there used to be crepes and coffee but I think the offering may be different now. It has an outdoor seating area that is relatively quiet and uncrowded, usually. It is just adjacent to the ice skating show.However, the food service throughout Christmas Town simply isn’t great, nor is the cleanliness of eating areas. In particular, the Squire’s Grill in England and Grogan’s Pub in Ireland are a hard pass (messy, mediocre food, indifferent service and really expensive for what you get). So, you’d be better off spending your time taking in the shows and lights and getting a quick snack. And if you get really hungry, I’d opt for the German food or pizza at Festhaus or the smaller setting of Trapper’s Smokehouse. Winterfest offers fewer and less varied dining options, and while expensive, the service is more friendly and the eating areas are better maintained. You’d still be better off having a good meal before visiting Winterfest. But dessert? Save room. Because Winterfest has funnel cakes with ice cream on them, which pretty much beats anything you’d order at Christmas Town.
  • Shopping: Winterfest wins! Busch Gardens Christmas Town does have a few stand-out shops. The gift shop in England has lots of Beatles and English-style merchandise I really liked. The German shop had Steiff animals, cuckoo clocks and a model train, in addition to German treats. While I enjoyed browsing in the shops at Busch Garden’s Christmas Town, I found more affordable and better quality (overall) merchandise at Kings Dominion’s Winterfest. And lots of Snoopy gifts! Plus, the sales staff were very nice.
  • Other attractionsWinterfest wins! While Christmas Town may have an edge over Winterfest in terms of rides and shows, Winterfest does offer more activities; some for a fee. There is a place where you can write to Santa Claus and read letters others have written, cookie decorating ($23 extra), ice skating at a huge rink ($20 extra), a petting zoo area of of Nativity animals, and a nightly parade. Winterfest also has walk-around characters, like Jack Frost and others who greet you and pose for pictures, which Christmas Town does not have. And Winterfest has fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
  • Meaning of Christmas – Winterfest wins! Winterfest displays a large Nativity scene and live animals from the Nativity. Busch Gardens Christmas Town is the place to go for Santa Claus, on the other hand. Christmas Town boasts not one but two experiences – Santa Claus in Germany and a more woodsy Father Christmas in England.
  • CrowdsWinterfest wins! The layout of Kings Dominion is more open and spacious. The layout of Busch Gardens unfortunately can lend itself to congestion.
  • Accessibility – Winterfest wins! You’ll encounter some hills while navigating Christmas Town at Busch Gardens and that can be tough for those with mobility challenges. But Kings Dominion is a mostly flat park. There are also more places to sit and rest and the pathways are better lighted. Overall, Winterfest feels a bit more accessible, so important for a night festival. Taking the weather into consideration is always a factor when visiting an outdoor theme park. If it begins to rain, ducking into a gift shop is about your only retreat. But at Winterfest, you can rent an igloo with seating for your party for the night, situated next to the Eiffel Tower. They are a pricey add-on ($229 to $259) but waterproof and heated. New’s Eve igloo rentals are already sold out! Another nice perk is that Kings Dominion offers a discount for seniors ages 62 and up.
  • FriendlinessWinterfest wins! From the greeting you receive on entering the park to the cheery farewell, Winterfest is staffed with demonstrably friendlier workers. Service was friendlier and more efficient in the shops and eateries.
  • Kid-FriendlinessWinterfest wins! Both parks feature rides and shows designed for children and the young at heart. Kings Dominion Winterfest features Snoopy characters. It’s important to note, however, that many of the children’s attractions were closed in the evening, at least on New Year’s Eve. Admission for kids to Winterfest is $20. A single day ticket ON SALE for Christmas Town is $60, for anyone ages 3 and up. Busch Gardens really caters more to teens and adults; there is more alcohol there then at Kings Dominion. The problem, according to many Trip Advisor reviews this years, is that, in addition to the high priced tickets, Busch Gardens is not really a kid-friendly park. It’s frankly exhausting to navigate as an adult; little legs can’t keep up. First, just navigating parking, as mentioned, adds so much time to the day. It’s chiefly a night event so kids are already tired. The lines for food and rides are very long. There aren’t a lot of food options for kids other than pizza and what they have is pricey. It becomes crowded and the staff isn’t known for their friendliness. I really can’t recommend Christmas Town for the young ones, unless they go during daylight hours — even then, it’s just too expensive.
  • Cleanliness – Winterfest wins! During my visit, I found that Winterfest bathrooms were noticeably cleaner and better maintained than the ones at Christmas Town, as were the eating areas and grounds.
  • Parking – Winterfest wins! Winterfest has a significant edge over Busch Gardens in terms of parking. You park in the lot and walk straight in. The entry is flat and well-lighted. Christmas Town’s parking system is more complex and you have to ride a bus to your car’s lot, which means waiting in queues before you even get into the park. There’s also a significant  and dark uphill climb back to the lot as you leave Christmas Town that feels like Mount Everest when your feet are tired. And more waiting for a bus to get back to your car.
  • Adjacent attractions – Christmas Town wins! Busch Gardens Christmas Town is located near Colonial Williamsburg, so you can easily see both on a weekend trip. On the other hand, Kings Dominion’s Winterfest is very close to Richmond, which has the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens holiday lights, museums and other attractions.

So which is better? Well, why choose? Both parks are better BEFORE Thanksgiving. Christmas Town is a a safe bet for adults on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or after Jan 1. Winterfest is magical for all ages on New Year’s Eve. 🙂

Register to Win a Staycation at Gaylord National ICE

Have you been to “ICE!” at Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor in Fort Washington, MD? in I’ve never been but I’ve heard good things about the winter wonderland sculpted out of 2 million pounds of ice. The theme this year is A Christmas Story (you know, like the movie!). Here’s a video preview of the resort…

Well, here is your big chance to experience it for free! Fairfax Corner and Gaylord National are giving away a Holiday Staycation. To enter the contest, text ICE to (571) 576-2999 between November 1 and December 4, 2022. You’ll be entered to win a getaway valued at $1000 that includes

  • Two nights accommodation at the Gaylord National Resort (1 room, up to 4 people). Resort fee included.
  • Admission to ICE! (4 tickets)
  • Breakfast for 4 people, up to $80, at the Potomac District Cafe and Market (one breakfast).
  • Self-parking for one car.

The winner can book the getaway between November 20 and December 30, 2022, depending on availability. The winner will be notified by December 6, 2022. But if you don’t win, you can still reserve your tickets for ICE! November 20 – December 31, 2022. Tickets are $28 to $50, depending on the day of your visit and the attractions you select.

Good luck! 🎅

 

 

Nat. Christmas Tree Lighting Set for November 30. Lottery for Tickets

This year is the earliest year I can remember for the National Christmas Tree Lighting. The official tree lighting takes place on Wednesday, November 30 on the Ellipse in President’s Park. Would you like to be there to see President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden light the tree? There’s an online lottery for free tickets for the 100th anniversary celebration of the National Christmas Tree Lighting going on now. Sign up before 10 am on Tuesday, November 1 to enter for a chance at tickets.

The celebration features live musical performances by local and national performers.

Lottery applicants will be notified about their ticket status on Nov. 8.  Don’t worry if you don’t get a ticket because CBS will broadcast the 2022 ceremony on Sunday, Dec. 11 (8:00 PM ET/5 PM PT). And  you can visit the tree when it is open to public (along with the surrounding state and territory trees) daily December 2, 2022 through January 1, 2023. The lights will be on  until 10 pm each night (11 pm on Fridays and Saturdays).

The Tradition of Christmas in July

Did you know that it is exactly 5 months until Christmas? Some people celebrate “Christmas in July.”

I am not sure exactly how this custom started but there is a 1940s movie called “Christmas in July.” It’s not a festive movie at all; the main character wins (or thinks he wins) a big contest and goes on a spending spree.

But I have seen references to “Christmas in July” observances and movies around this time of year. If it has been wayyyy too hot for you lately, maybe you’d like to observe “Christmas in July!”

I’m not suggesting you whip up some egg nog and put up a tree and decorate it but it would be easy enough to…

  • Listen to some Christmas music.
  • Shop at a year-round Christmas store.
  • Watch your favorite Christmas movie.
  • Discuss how you would like to celebrate the season this year.
  • Read a Christmas story.
  • Organize your Christmas recipes.
  • Go through your Christmas decorations, books, videos and records and donate anything you don’t want anymore.
  • Make an ornament…maybe out of sand dollars or seashells? There are bags of both at Dollar Tree, ready for crafting…

How would you celebrate Christmas in July?

✨ Last day for these holiday events ✨

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

Merry 8th Day of Christmas!

As the weekend winds down, today is the last day to experience some favorite holiday events this Christmas season.

Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of LightsMeadowlark Botanical Gardens, Vienna, VA. Through January 2 open daily from 5:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. More than 500,000 LED lights and displays transform the gardens into a winter wonderland, including a flowing stream of softly glowing lights, two-story animated fountain, and Gingerbread Village. Advance registration is recommended.


Bull Run Festival of Lights. Bull Run Regional Park, Centreville. Through January 2. 5:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Two and half mile drive-through light display and walk-around winter carnival and Holiday Village with attractions and s’mores.


Busch Gardens Christmas Town in Wiliamsburg, VA is a highly recommended holiday experience. Runs on select nights through Jan 2.


Winter Lights in McLean Central Park is a walk-through event running from early November to mid-January 2022. McLean Central Park: 1468 Dolley Madison Blvd., McLean


Ice and Lights: The Winter Village at Cameron Run. 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. nightly. Through January 2, including New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Admission to village is $10. Skating and admission is $22 and tickets must be purchased online in advancel. 55×80’ Real Ice Rink, 20’ Walk thru Tree, 100’ RGB Lighted Tunnel, lit trees and winter displays, Fire Pits, Heated Igloos, Wreath Photo Op, Bling & Things Retail Shop, Slice & Ice Pizza, donuts & more.


Kings Dominon celebrates Winterfest in Doswell, VA on select nights through January 2. Tickets begin at $32. The event includes seasonal light displays, rides and attractions, performances, character meet and greets, ice skating (additional fee), cookie decorating (additional fee).

🎀 Merry Christmas! 🎀

Best wishes for a blessed Merry Christmas from your friend, Mary, at Cool Yule!

Today will be an unseasonably warm and humid day in Northern Virginia, with a high expected of 67 degrees. It will be a great day for outdoor activities, including outdoor ice skating, walking, biking and visiting parks and playgrounds.

There is a surge of Covid infections. If gathering with friends and family outside of your household, please consider taking precautions, such as meeting outdoors and wearing masks, regardless of your vaccination status.

Christmas is a lovely time to spend at home but if you want to go out for a meal, some ice skating or to see some spectacular light displays, here are some ideas…

Last minute gifts and grocery items

  • Most grocery stores and drug stores will be open until about 5 p.m.
  • Grab some healthy snacks, like veggie and fruit trays, guacamole, veggie sushi, salsa and hummus, etc.
  • Pick up something fun to read, like Reader’s Digest, your favorite magazine or a seasonal paperback.

Staying safer at home

  • Call friends and family and wish them a Merry Christmas.
  • Take a long walk during the day.
  • Christmas services are available to view on Youtube – Washington National Cathedral (Episcopal) and The National Basilica (Catholic).
  • TubiTV has many Christmas movies free to watch online. Check out my movie recommendations.
  • Complete self-care acitivities, like guided meditation, brief workouts and yoga, reading – catch up on the self-care challenge!
  • Make one meal special today – breakfast/brunch, lunch or dinner.
  • Play card games and board games.
  • Get a head-start on your New Year’s resolutions or craft a vision board.
  • Listen to Christmas music while keeping your hands busy on a project, like coloring, crafting or a puzzle. You can listen to my playlist of 30 Christmas favorites on the home page of the Cool Yule Blog.

Coffee Runs and Dining 

  • Remember, you can always order food to go or to be delivered, if you are remaining safer at home.
  • Some restaurants that are open on Christmas Day include Denny’s, iHOP and some Starbucks, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.
  • McCormick and Schmidts, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, Morton’s, Fogo da Chao, Macaroni Grill and other similar upscale chain restaurants will be open on Christmas Day. Many of these restaurants ask that you remained masked on the premises whenever you are not actually eating or drinking. Consider getting take-out orders for additional safety.

Ice Skating

  • Cameron Run Ice and Lights in Alexandria will be open for skating and looking at lights.
  • The outdoor ice skating rink at Reston Town Center will be open from 1:30 pm to 11 pm. Even if you don’t skate, it’s fun looking at the skaters.

More Seasonal fun

  • You can visit the National Christmas Tree in back of the White House and the Capitol Tree from 10 am – 5 pm. It will be crowded, though so please consider wearing a mask and social distancing.
  • Save yourself the trip: The US Botanic Gardens will be closed (as will all DC museums) and the outdoor display with model trains will also be closed. But you could chek out the Capitol Tree!
  • In Williamsburg, Christmas Town at Busch Gardens is open and I highly recommend it.
  • Save yourself the trip: Kings Dominion Winterfest in Doswell is closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But it is open on New Year’s Eve!
  • In the evening, the walk-through Meadowlark Gardens Winter Walk of Lights (Vienna) is open as is the drive-through Bull Run Lights and Winter Village in Manassas.
  • The new attraction, Tinsel! at Holiday Inn Dulles in Sterling is open for 2-hour visits.

🎄 Merry Christmas Eve! 🎄

I hope you have the most wonderful Christmas ever!

Want to know what fun events are happening today? Here are some suggesions on how to spend today. I am emphasizing outdoor itineraries today, for Covid safety.

Some highlights today

  • 1 pm: Water skiing Santa and his friends, Alexandria waterfront
  • 8 pm: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure – ABC
  • 8 pm: A Holly Dolly Christmas (with Dolly Parton) – CBS
  • 8 pm: It’s A Wonderful Life (movie with Jimmy Stewart) – NBC
  • 8:30 pm: Shrek the Halls – ABC
  • 9 pm: Disney Prep & Landing – ABC
  • 9:30 pm: Disney Prep & Landing 2: Naughty vs. Nice – ABC
  • 11:30 pm: Christmas Eve Mass (with the Pope) – NBC

Safety Today for You and the Community

A big surge in holiday travel is expected today. In addition to the Covid surge, people tend to drink and drive during the holidays, so it’s a good idea to take precautions. Consider

  • Remembering that the greatest thing we can do for health care workers right now is not to beome another patient in an already over-stressed system.
  • Spending at least a few minutes in prayer or quiet reflection.
  • Call or Zoom with family and friends.
  • Remaining safer at home. Watch movies, listen to music, play games, cook special meals, bake cookies, make mulled cider, take walks, read and work on the December self-care challenge.
  • Instead of going to church, watching a live service online.
  • Take a virtual tour of the White House decorations.
  • Driving on secondary roads instead of major highways. It takes longer but there are fewer and less severe accidents.
  • Staying off the roads completely after dark.
  • Wearing a mask anytime you are indoors and not in your home.
  • Staying home if you feel sick at all.
  • Be a little more patient, if you are spending time with family. Take time for yourself and breathe and stretch. Manage your expectations and focus on the positive.

Visit the National Christmas Tree

Photographer: Nathan King, National Park Service

Have you seen the National Christmas Tree up close and in person yet? If no, there’s still time.

This year, the tree is a white fir tree with warm white lights and sparkling red and white ball decorations. The tree is crowned with a Christmas star.

The lights on the nation’s 99th National Christmas Tree in Washington, DC turn on around sunset each evening and turn off promptly at 10:00 pm Sunday-Thursday and 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. The Pathway of Peace on the Ellipse (in back of the White House) is open through January 1. Hours are 10:00 am-10:00 pm Sunday-Thursday, and 10:00 am-11:00 pm Friday and Saturday.

In addition to the National Tree, there are 58 state and territory trees to see.

Transporation and Comfort

The Farragut West Metro station is the closet metro stop. If you drive, please note the parking spaces — I got a parking ticket on Christmas Eve once! There is a Potbelly sandwich shop nearby (1701 Pennsylvania Avenue) if you are hungry or thirsty. It is the most convenient and economical food place in the area and the food is pretty good. It is open 8 a.m. – 7 pm. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and of course, it has a restroom. Another quick place to use the restroom is the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery (which is almost directly across from the White House) when it is open. There is typically a National Park Service concession stand but it’s not very good, it’s expensive and the lines are long. Another option is to bring a water bottle or cocoa thermos with you.