Tree Lightings Ceremonies and Light Shows for 2018
Feliz Navidad! Each Christmas season local governments, neighborhoods, and shopping centers host holiday tree lightings. Our list below (of events in Northern Virginia or very nearby) sorts them by date. Some are simple, traditional ceremonies, while others are elaborate festivals with other activities, and Santa visits just about all of them! Unless otherwise noted, events are free. These are all outdoor events, so dress accordingly for the weather, and check official sites for updates and details. Please note this list is primarily for Christmas tree lighting events; also see our Hanukkah guide for menorah lightings. Share this with your friends and family traveling to NoVA and the DC area for the holidays!
ONGOING EVENTS (scroll down for the one-time special events)
Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights
Nov. 9, 2018, to Jan. 6, 2019
Park lights display in Vienna, VA
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens turns all aglow during the holiday season with the Winter Walk of Lights. This beautiful production has more than 500,000 lights illuminating the trees and displays of flowers, animals, fountains, a stream, and much more, including lights set to music by the fountain and entertainment and kids’ activities on special nights. It’s a walk-through event so you can go at your own pace. Ticket prices are $8 to $16.50 depending on day and time. Kids ages 2 and younger are free.
Bull Run Festival of Lights
Nov. 21, 2018, to Jan. 6, 2019
Park lights display in Centreville, VA
A popular drive-through light show depicting holiday and winter themes. The festival also includes a carnival on select dates; a Holiday Village with bonfires, treats, and photos with Santa; Santa’s Enchanted Lights (40,000 twinkling lights set to music), and free family activities and camel rides (extra fees) on select dates. Admission prices are per carload: most Mondays-Thursdays $20; most Fridays-Sundays, holidays and other peak times $25 carnival fees extra.
Gaylord National Fountain Lights and Show
Nov. 16, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019
Light and music show at National Harbor, MD
As part of its “Christmas on the Potomac” celebration (featuring the ICE show, train rides, and more; fees apply for these), the Gaylord National has a nightly show in its atrium that is free and open to all. This includes a display with modern and classic Christmas carols synchronized to the fountain show, plus an “indoor snowfall.” Both events take place nightly, 6-9 pm.
Zoo Lights at the National Zoo
Nov. 23, 2018, to Jan. 1, 2019
Free lights display in Washington, DC
See the National Zoo in a new light at this annual event where more than 500,000 environmentally friendly LED lights transform the Zoo into a winter wonderland. Plus, enjoy a light show set to music, visit some nocturnal animals, go “snowless snow tubing,” or take a ride on the carousel and train. Free admission; fees for activities. Other fun includes a Glow Zone, holiday crafts show, and special indoor exhibits.
November 8, 2018 through January 2, 2019
Huge Chinese lantern festival in Ashburn, VA
The largest lights festival on the East Coast brightens winter at One Loudoun in Ashburn, Virginia. The season-long festival brings dozens of installations, with more than one million lights. This is not a Christmas show, though there are some holiday displays. Admission fees start at $19.99 for children.
National Christmas Tree nightly entertainment
Dec. 1-Dec. 25, 2018
Nightly display and entertainment in Washington, DC
While tickets to the National Tree Lighting Ceremony are limited (free, but through a lottery system), every night for the following three weeks you can see the tree day or night and enjoy free highly holiday entertainment of musical groups from DC and across the country.
Neighborhood Light Displays
Ongoing, dates vary
Home illuminations at multiple locations
Want to find the best or most extravagant holiday light displays in your neighborhood? The Holly’s Tacky Christmas Lights lets you find them easily in Northern Virginia and Maryland!
2018 COMMUNITY TREE LIGHTING EVENTS
Sat., Dec. 1, Festival of Lights and Carols
Listen to live holiday music and enjoy s’mores and hot cider at Old Town Square in Fairfax from 3 to 6 pm, then enjoy caroling and lighting of the Christmas at Old Town Square at approxiamately 5:30 pm!
Sat., Dec. 1, Herndon Tree Lighting and Sing-along
The Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce hosts this annual event in downtown Herndon, 5-6 Pm at the corner of Lynn and Elden Streets. In addition to the tree lighting, there is community caroling and a visit from Santa.
Sat., Dec. 1, Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Not a tree lighting, but more unique: a boat lighting! Each year, Alexandria’s harbor lights up as dozens of illuminated boats cruise the Potomac River at the historic waterfront, led by Alexandria’s fireboat The Vigilant. The parade itself begins at 5:30 pm.
Sat., Dec. 1, The District’s Holiday Boat Parade
You also can catch the Holiday Boat Parade of Lights (see above) on the Washington, DC, side at the Wharf, where free landside events (6-8 pm) include the lighting of the Gangplank Marina Christmas Tree, the first “snowfall” of the holiday season, photos with Santa Claus, live holiday music, a s’mores fire pit, gingerbread cookie decorating, and more.
Sat., Dec. 1, One Loudoun Holiday Tree Lighting
A “high-tech” celebration in one of the area’s newest developments, with music, food, the tree lighting, family entertainment, and more! The event is from 5 pm to 7 pm at the One Loudoun retail complex in Ashburn, and it wraps up with a fireworks show!
Sat., Dec. 1: National Harbor Tree Lighting Ceremony and Fireworks
National Harbor, MD
National Harbor hosts one of the first tree lighting ceremonies with a full day of holiday fun on the waterfront. In addition to the ceremonial tree lighting, you can take a ride on the Capital Wheel, see Santa (fee applies for photos), and see the Surfs movie. Fireworks and more music will follow the tree lighting.
Sun., Dec. 2, Great Falls Celebration of Lights
Great Falls, VA
The tree lighting in Great Falls is part of the larger Celebration of Lights which includes a petting zoo, pony rides, hot cider and hot chocolate, the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in an antique fire truck, and a live nativity scene. This is a free community event, held rain or shine, from 3:45 pm to 6:30 pm!
Fri., Dec. 7, Leesburg Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting
Celebrate the start of the holiday season in Leesburg at the annual Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting Ceremony on the Town Green. The event, with performances from local schools and a holiday sing-along, starts at 6 pm.
Sat., Dec. 8, Manassas Park Light Parade
A unique event is the annual City of Manassas Park Light Parade, an evening parade of cars illuminated and decorated for the holidays. The parade begins at 5:45 pm and is free to spectators (fee to participate).
Sat., Dec. 8, Town of Dumfries Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting
The Town of Dumfries hosts its annual Christmas Holiday Parade at noon, departing from Town Hall. Afterward, stay for the tree lighting ceremony!
Sat.-Sun., Dec. 14-15, Christmas Illuminations at Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, VA
Mount Vernon’s Christmas Illuminations will include fireworks choreographed to holiday music, local choirs, re-enactors in winter encampment, 18th-century dancing, and more. Admission is $30 for adults and $20 for children.
Fri., Nov. 16: Fairfax Corner Light-Up
One of the earliest Christmas tree lighting ceremonies takes place at the Fairfax Corner Shopping Center, where from 6 pm to 9 pm you also can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, take a horse and carriage ride (for a small fee), and enjoy holiday entertainment including choirs, balloon twisters, and more. Free event.
Fri., Nov. 17, Tysons Corner Center Christmas Tree Lighting
Join Tysons Corner Center and Santa Claus as they light the 51-foot tree, followed by live music; Santa HQ, the digitally enhanced visit with Santa presented by HGTV; ice skating; and more!
Sat., Nov. 17: Virginia Gateway Fireworks Spectacular
Kick off the holidays on the Plaza at Promenade on November 14 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm with a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, horse and carriage rides ($3 per person), live entertainment, balloons for the kids, and more, including fireworks at 7 pm! Admission is free.
Sat., Nov. 17, Village at Leesburg Tree Lighting
Santa arrives by carriage for this fun event, 3-5 pm. Other fesivities include horse-drawn carriage rides, musical performances, caroling, holiday characters, and more. They’ll also be collecting toy donations for Toys for Tots. This 5-story-tall tree with a snowfall topper and more than 15,000 dazzling lights also performs daily music and light shows.
Fri, Nov. 23, Reston Town Center Tree Lighting and Sing-along
After a full day of fun that includes the Gingerbread Man Mile run for kids, a huge parade, and more, visitors at night can watch the horse-drawn carriage bring Santa and Mrs. Claus at 6 pm to Fountain Square, where they will light the tree and lead the crowd in singing traditional Christmas songs.
Fri., Nov. 23, Alexandria Holiday Tree Lighting
The tree lighting festivities (6-8 pm) include live performances and a visit by Santa. The event is held rain or shine at Market Square in front of Alexandria City Hall.
Fri., Nov. 23, Tree Lighting at Stonebridge Potomac Town Center
Annual community event with the tree lighting at 6 pm plus music by holiday carolers and other entertainment.
Mon., Nov. 26, Vienna Church Street Holiday Stroll
At this annual event along Church Street in Vienna, Santa greets children at the Historic Freeman Store and Museum and then helps Mayor light the Holiday Tree at 6:20 pm. Other family-friendly activities (until 9 pm) include a petting zoo, free hot chocolate and roasting marshmallows at supervised bonfires.
Thurs., Nov. 29, Norwegian Christmas at Union Station
Since 1996, the people of Norway have given a Christmas tree to the people of the United States as thanks for help during and after World War II, and for continued friendship between the two nations. This tree lighting celebration features many fun extras including a live broadcast of a Yo Yo Ma concert!
Thurs., Nov. 29, Village of Shirlington Tree Lighting
The “Shirlie Lights Up the Village” tree lighting event also features photos with Santa, horse and carriage rides, live music, kids’ activities (cookie decorating, face painting, balloons, and photo opps), and more. Bring non-perishable food items to donate to Arlington Food Assistance Center. The tree lighting is at 6:30 pm, and Santa photos start at 6:45 pm.
Fri., Nov. 30, Mosaic District Holiday Tree Lighting
Get to Mosaic District by 5 pm to welcome the arrival of the holiday season with a merry and bright Tree Lighting! Bring your family and friends to enjoy a Santa meet and greet, sing-along to live music, shop, and catch a screening of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Fri., Nov. 30, Santa Lights Manassas
Meet on the lawn at the Manassas Museum (5:30-8 pm) to enjoy Santa’s arrival via a VRE train, a live concert, the tree lighting (at 6:30 pm), ice skating, and more! Sponsor TD Bank will provide festive fun, games, prizes, and a holiday photo booth at the Harris Pavilion following the tree lighting. Families can also visit the Manassas Museum and downtown shops and restaurants and enjoy free wagon rides.