Some people decry the earlier and earlier start to the holiday season. These must be the same people who ask you on Tuesday if you can do something with them on Saturday, as if your Saturdays aren’t filled up a month in advance.
Your friends and family expect you to pull off a miracle every year in procuring and trimming a tree, shopping for and wrapping dozens of gifts, cleaning the house and decorating it, baking tons of holiday treats and pay the bill for it all.
If you have kids, add to this the holiday band concert, the Nutcracker dance recital and parties and get-togethers for innumerable clubs and teams.
With all this in mind, we have prepared a go-to list of holiday lights displays, giving you extra time to prepare and fill out your calendar during this busy season. Because after all, you should be able to relax and enjoy some of it, right?
- ZooLights — The National Zoo flips the switch on 500,000 lights next week with the opening of its annual ZooLights display, featuring 163 acres of lighted images of animals such as elephants, tigers, and of course, pandas.All types of creatures, from mammals to invertebrates, are depicted along the Olmstead Walk, and visitors can stop into buildings along the way and see what the small mammals and apes do at night. (Hint: Nothing. They sleep. If you can even find them.)Still, the buildings provide a respite from the cold, should any come along by next week. At the Think Tank, Pepco, a major event sponsor, hands out free light sticks. Take extras, if you can, and use them when you wait in the dark for up to a week for Pepco to get your lights back on when a branch in your neighborhood falls on a wire.
Also offered nightly are train and carousel rides and snowless tubing (it’s a slide) on Lion and Tiger Hill. Each of these has a fee, unless you’re a member, then you get free tickets. Be prepared to wait in line a looooooong time for these activities, depending on crowd size the night you’re there.
Open 5 to 9 p.m., Nov. 25 – Jan. 1, closed Dec. 24 and 25; free. Parking is expensive and lots fill up quickly; this year the zoo is running shuttles every 20 minutes to the Woodley Park Metro stop.
- Garden of Lights — This display of more than a million lights at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland, has long attracted thousands of visitors eager to once again see Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster; the illuminated caterpillar big enough to walk through; and the rainstorm, complete with clouds, rainbow and thunder.
The county facility’s conservatory contains a special train exhibit for the season as well, including a miniature replica of the conservatory itself which depicts the train exhibit, complete with spectators. Look for yourself!
The Visitor Center features various musical performers throughout the season and sells drinks and snacks.
Open 5 to 9 p.m., Nov. 25 – Jan. 1, closed Dec. 24 and 25; $25 per car Monday-Thursday, $30 on weekends.
- National Christmas Tree — The annual tree-lighting event is scheduled for Dec. 1 this year, and features performers Chance the Rapper, Kelly Clarkson, Yolanda Adams and James Taylor.The lottery for tickets to this event was held in early October, so if you don’t have them now, you probably won’t get them, but don’t fret. For security purposes, you have to be in your seat a half-hour before the show starts, it’s usually cold, and if you get hot cocoa to stay warm, then you have to go to the bathroom. There isn’t anywhere to go, and if you get up you’re not allowed back in anyway.
So stay home and watch it on TV, then go and see the tree another night. The display usually features a train and other decorations, making the trip downtown worthwhile.
- Winter Walk of Lights — This half-mile path through the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia, features old favorites like the lakeside lights, fountain of lights and holiday nature walk, as well as new displays.One great thing about this event is that it’s open every night — Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s — so if you’re not Christian, if you think turkey is dry and thirst inducing, if you’re not hung over on Jan. 1, you’ll have someplace to go.Open 5:30-10 p.m. daily, Nov. 18 – Jan. 8; ticket prices range from $5 to $13, depending on the day of the week and age of the visitor.