Category Archives: Christmas Traditions

Christmas Tree Lightings in November and December

Do you light up like a Christmas tree when they light up Christmas trees? Here’s an ahhh-some (and printable!) list made just for you.

Some of these tree lightings occur in November so I’m giving you advance notice. Most events include free entertainment, visits from Santa Claus and in some cases, toy collections. Click the links to learn more and plan your fun evening.

Friday, November 15, 6 p.m. Tree lighting at Holiday Light-Up, Fairfax Corner, Fairfax. Plus: horse carriage rides!

Friday, November 15, 6 p.m. Tree Lighting on the Plaza with Tommy McFly and musical entertainment. The Plaza, Tysons Corner Center, Vienna.

Saturday, November 23, 6 p.m. Tree Lighting Ceremony in Old Town Alexandria, City Hall on King Street and Market Street.

Friday, November 29, 6 p.m. Tree lighting and Sing-a-long at Fountain Square in Reston Town Center. While you’re there, visit the Hyatt Hotel lobby to see a real gingerbread village.

Monday, December 2, 6 p.m. Tree lighting in the Town of Vienna at The Church Street Holiday Stroll. Santa arrives by firetruck!

Tuesday, December 3, 6 p.m. Norwegian Christmas Tree Lighting and ceremony at Union Station, Washington, DC. Plus: the famous model railroad display on view all December!

Wednesday, December 4, 5 p.m. U.S. Capitol Tree Lighting, West Lawn, U.S. Capitol, Washington, DC. The tree will be lit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and will be illuminated each evening in December until 11 p.m.

Thursday December 5, 5 p.m. The National Christmas Tree will be lit by the First Lady and will remain on view through December at the Ellipse (in back of the White House) in Washington, DC. The National Tree is surrounded by 50+ smaller trees for each U.S. state and territory.

Saturday, December 7, 5:30 p.m. Tree lighting at The Festival of Lights and Carols, Old Town Square, 10415 North Street, Fairfax City. Holiday Festival of Lights and Carols 2 pm. – 7 p.m. with live music, s’mores and hot cider.


Spread a little Yuletide Cheer

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

Mom making her purchases at The Christmas Mouse

There’s this thing I do now during the holidays that I learned from my mom. I guarantee it will really make you feel Christmas-y.

Buy some small treat — you know like a Russell Stover mini box of chocolates, or a Godiva Bar. You don’t have to spend more than a couple of dollars, if that. And it doesn’t have to be candy — it can be like a $5 gift card for McDonalds or Starbucks or something. Even a candy cane or an extra Christmas card would do.

Just keep ’em stashed in your purse, or on you.

Then when you go out this time of year, like say to a restaurant, you leave that token along with the tip for the waiter. Or if you are Christmas shopping, you give it to the person who rings you up, even at the grocery store. At the drive-thru. For your pharmacist. For your bus driver.

Anywhere where people are nice to you or you think they could use a lift. The more random and anonymous, the more fun it seems to be.  You know, like your left hand doesn’t know what your right hand is doing.

By the way, if you have kids, this is something you want your kids to “catch” you doing from time to time. Generosity is learned and modeling is the best way to do it. And what better way to be generous, in any way you can, than during the holidays?

This isn’t to replace the conventional tipping you would do during the holidays, like for your barber or hairdresser, dog walker, babysitter, etc. This is a little extra you give to people who would not expect it.

Let me tell you: people act like you gave them a million dollars! You want see a tired person grin, just try it.

They’re so surprised and pleased, and they really appreciate it — all you have to do is give it to him or her with a quick and warm thank you, and of course, Merry Christmas. Strangers have hugged me!

It is so much fun and it will make you feel like Santa Claus!

Celebrate Epiphany with a Kings’ Cake

January 6 is Epiphany, or the twelfth day of Christmas.  It is traditionally celebrated as the final day of the Christmas season, is a feast celebration, and marks the day that the wise men brought gifts to the Christ Child.

In our household, as in many, Christmas greenery is left in place until Epiphany passes.

When I lived in France, it was traditional to eat a delicious Kings’ Cake on this day, called a “galette des rois.” It’s different from the Mardi Gras King Cake you might have seen, which is shaped like a ring and decorated with purple, gold, and green sugar, and beads.  The Mardi Gras cakes are also offered on Epiphany through Mardi Gras, or the Tuesday before Lent.

The French Kings’ cake is a flakier pastry concoction, however, more like a Pithviers than a layer cake, and typically has almond paste inside, and is generally eaten during Epiphany.   The cake concealed a small baby or other nativity figure, and was adorned with a gold paper crown.  If you got the token in your slice of cake, you got to wear the crown and would be king for the day.

It can be hard to find a real, French-style king’s cake in this area.  I saw one at La Madeleine Bakery and Cafe this week, however, for about $16.

Holiday Tipping

If you have not already distributed presents and Christmas gifts to people who work for you, Boxing Day (December 26) is  traditionally a time when servants were recognized with gifts of cash and is a perfect opportunity to do it.

Wondering how much to tip people who work for you?

The postman isn’t supposed to get cash. I wish I had known this, but you are not supposed to give postal workers cash, and they are not supposed to take it.  It’s against their policies.  They can accept presents with a value of less than $20.  My postman took the money I gave him, but I’ll remember that next year.

Don’t forget your regular baby sitter or nanny. You should give your sitter the equivalent of a night’s pay, plus a small token gift from your child. Your nanny should get a substantial cash bonus, equivalent to a week’s pay, plus a small wrapped gift.

Did you know you were supposed to tip your personal trainer? I didn’t.  If you have been working with a personal trainer for a year, regularly, tip them the equivalent of one training session.  I haven’t worked with a trainer for a while (can you tell? 😉  But I have given my workout instructors small gifts, like bubble bath sets.

Say thank you to your child’s teacher. I hope you don’t have to recognize as many people (16+) as I do around the holidays.  When you have a child with special needs, you spend a lot of time saying thank you in as many ways as you can.  But if your child just has one or a few teachers, I find that teachers appreciate consumable gifts, like fragrance or bath sets, or candles, since they get a lot of stuff from students.  Also music CDs have been a big hit.  Evidently, they already get plenty of ornaments and cookies.

Random tipping. My mom randomly tips people, and I think this is a nice custom around the holidays.  If someone gives you nice service in a fast-food restaurant, or elsewhere, and you slip them $5 with a quiet Merry Christmas, they will appreciate it.

There are lots of other guidelines for tipping, e.g. for dog-walkers and barbers, but I thought these would be the most common.

Oh, are you traveling for the holidays?  Bring lots of cash for tips!

  • Don’t forget, in a hotel, anyone who helps you with a bag, it’s about $1 to $2 a bag. The person who ultimately gets the tip is the person who takes the bags to your room.That can be confusing in a big hotel where it seems like your bags are shuttled between a lot of people.
  • Leave $3 to $5 a day for the maid.
  • If you call down for something, like an extra pillow, then tip $1 to $2 per item when it’s brought to the room.
  • You don’t have to add extra for room service — the gratuity is always there on the bill, isn’t it?  But they always seem to expect a little something, so be prepared with a couple of extra dollars.
  • Help from a concierge or doorman with recommendations or directions is about $5 (something I myself did not know until now).
  • You tip the valet who takes your car when he brings your car back, not when he takes your car, and $3 is acceptable.

Cool Yule Video: Nutcracker Ballet Pas de Deux (Videos)

Here are not one, but two, choreographed versions of the pas de deux in The Nutcracker.

The first video (1968) portrays a classic version featuring the phenomenal Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev as the Nutcracker Prince and the very great Merle Park as Clara. At the time, they were both dancing for the Royal Ballet of London. Her performance in The Nutcracker earned her international acclaim and assured her a place among history’s greatest ballerinas.

What I appreciate about this flawless performance, in addition to its beautiful choreography (by Nureyev) and emotional quality, is the athleticism and laser precision of the dancers. 

The second video (1977) is Mikhail Baryshnikov’s version for American Ballet Theatre in which he performs with Gelsey Kirkland. It created a sensation when it was presented at the Kennedy Center in 1977. This highly artistic and deeply psychological interpretation adds all kinds of novel elements.  For one, he puts Clara in the pas de deux, whereas in other versions she is merely a spectator of this dance.  Then he also adds Herr Drosselmeyer into the dance, which adds all kinds of layers of meaning and a novel dimension, really creating a pas de trois!

With its fluid choreography and drama, and the wispy costume and flowing coiffure of the delicate Ms. Kirkland, the intensely emotional, dream-like performance is full of mystery and beauty, conjuring up all kinds of musings about love, coming of age, strength and vulnerability, and even desire and sensuality.  (The pas de deux begins at 3:43 in this video.)

See “The Real Santa Claus” and more at Merrifield Garden Center Open House, starting November 28

Merrifield Garden Center in Falls Church, Virginia  (8132 Lee Highway, on the corner of Lee Highway and Gallows Road, across from Office Depot and Arby’s) presents an eye-widening array of Christmas decorations each year in its Christmas Shop.  This is the place to go for live and artificial trees, holly, pine roping, and all kinds of festive greenery, and exquisite ornaments.  But it is also one of my favorite destinations just to walk around and take in the beauty of the holiday decorations.

Holiday Open House November 28-29

On the weekend after Thanksgiving, November 28 and 29, the store holds its annual holiday open house, with refreshments and the arrival of “The Real Santa Claus.”  St. Nick holds court in a real sleigh in a special Santa Claus house.  The lines are often long, especially on the weekends, but there are trains, lights, displays, and plenty of things to look at inside Santa’s house.  (To avoid the longest lines, come early in December, on a weekday, right at 5 p.m. if you can manage it.)

Santa’s Schedule

You can visit Santa starting November 28 through December 23 from 12 noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, and from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Tuesdays- Fridays.  Santa takes a day off on Monday, except for December 21st.

Santa’s “Press Conferences”

Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy Santa’s press conference, which takes place on 12 noon on Saturdays and Sundays, and at 5 p.m. on .  Before each session, Santa takes questions from the children and leads some sing-a-longs.  He also recites poems and tells some jokes.  It is really enchanting, and even if you don’t have children, you should see this at least once.

By the way, there is also a bin there for new unwrapped toys for the less fortunate.  Please consider bringing a toy.