Nothing punctuates the holiday season like the traditionally strung bright lights and festive décor that grace department store windows, parade floats and city streets. And there are plenty of sights to see in the District this winter, many of them free or inexpensive.
Sight-seekers can begin their voyage at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History with displays of Christmas past. The “Holidays on Display— exhibition showcases a century of commercial holiday decorations dating back to the early 1900s with classics such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, originally a character in a storybook created by a Montgomery Ward advertising copywriter as a souvenir from a trip to the store.
Visitors to the history museum can also see pictures of Philadelphia’s elaborately decorated Wanamaker’s department store during the Christmas season. Postcards and illustrations showcase the creative ingenuity not just of retailers during the holidays but also everyday Americans participating in the annual Christmas parades. For instance, from the 1950s to the 1970s, Vaughn Displays Inc. offered build-your-own-float kits, with blueprints, sheeting, garlands and fringe.
At Union Station, a Norwegian Christmas will rouse some holiday cheer. Today at 6 p.m., visitors can enjoy live music and the official lighting ceremony of the 30-foot Christmas tree, donated by the Royal Norwegian Embassy and the citizens of Norway. Follow the tracks of Union Station’s holiday model train as it winds its way through the Norwegian mountains Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The Botanic Garden is hosting a “Windows to Wonderland— display highlighting replicas of the Supreme Court, Jefferson Memorial, Library of Congress, White House, Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument. Each replica is made of real plant material affixed to acrylic foam boards. Santa’s village and model trains make the Botanic Garden a treat for all ages.
The Gaylord National Resort (201 Waterfront St.) is looking to wow newcomers to its recently constructed 2,000-room luxury hotel in National Harbor, Md., just minutes outside of Washington. Showcasing 2 million pounds of ice, the Gaylord’s winter wonderland allows visitors to walk through and sit inside its hand-sculpted Christmas castle, ice horse, ice bridge and much more. Bring your winter gear as the 5,000 blocks of ice are kept at a frigid 9 degrees Fahrenheit. Admission is $19.99 for adults Monday through Thursday before 4 p.m. and $24.50 after 4 p.m. and Friday through Sunday. Seniors pay $18, kids ages 4-12 pay $13 and children younger than 4 get in free.
Macy’s (1201 G St. NW) recently unveiled its eight-window display with legendary singer and songwriter Patti LaBelle. The individual window fronts span an entire city block, and each is crafted in support of its “Believe— Christmas theme. Animated Santa’s helpers, festively dressed elves and whirling wheels of letters to Santa adorn each window. One showcase bears the message: “Right in the mailbox your letter goes. Up to the Pole Santa twitches his nose. Elves look on, unnoticed, unseen. Your letter falls into a place like a dream. Down it drifts with your list of good deeds. Filled with wishes, it gathers speed.—