Seasonal stress got you down? Bid it bah, humbug. Whether you want to cozy up next to the fire or head outside to frolic in the snow, here are 32 ways to feel instantly jollier—through Christmas and beyond.
By Megan Herr, Alice Levitt, Kelly Kendall, Kate Oczypok, and Renee Sklarew
Win the Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.
My Nguyen crafts gleefully gaudy seasonal sweatshirts and hoodies from a studio in Fairfax—find ’em on Etsy.—K.K.
Mull some wine.
It’s comfort in a cup (and it makes the house smell heavenly). Start with a dry red wine, like a merlot or syrah, that won’t end up too sweet once you’ve added the other flavors. It can be a pretty cheap bottle—though Two-Buck Chuck might be pushing it, there’s no need to splurge on the really good stuff because you’ll be dolling it up anyway. Pour into a pot and add an orange sliced into rounds, five whole cloves, three cinnamon sticks, a few star anise, a quarter-cup of honey, and a half-cup of brandy. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for another 10 minutes or so. Pour into glasses, garnish with slices of orange and more cinnamon sticks, and toast to Old Man Winter. —K.K.
Have a snowball fight in Dupont Circle.
As soon as the first flakes fall, the texts start to fly: “Meet me in Dupont Circle, and bring your throwing arm.” The long-established ritual of gathering there for a rousing snowball party is a highlight of every DMV snow day. Take the Metro to the Dupont Circle station ready to play in waterproof gloves, and prepare for battle. After you’ve had enough—or the snow has melted—pick up a cup of hot chocolate and a bag of mini croissants to share from Un Je Ne Sais Quoi pâtisserie. —R.S.
Go out for dumplings to celebrate the Year of the Tiger.
This year, people across Asia will be celebrating the Lunar New Year on February 1. To ring in the auspicious day, we’re craving dumplings, considered to augur a prosperous 12 months. Here’s where to get some of the best.
Dumpling Queen, Chantilly
The range of the Northern Chinese–style dumplings here is unmatched. Get them in flavors including lamb and carrot, pork and dill, and fish and cilantro. Just don’t order the pork-and-sour-cabbage version this New Year; they’re thought to be bad luck.
Royal Nepal, Alexandria
When it comes to outsize flavor, you can’t do much better than a momo, the Himalayan take on the humble dumpling. Here, you can exercise your tiger-like carnivorous tendencies with well-spiced dumplings made from wild boar or yak.
Tasty Dumpling, Falls Church
For a colorful meal, order a variety of these fusion dumplings, which come in hues including purple, green, and yellow, for takeout. Inside, you’ll find everything from lemongrass and chicken with cabbage to kimchi with mushrooms. —A.L.
Throw a fondue party.
Gather your vaccinated family and friends, some good-quality cheese, a stale baguette for cutting into cubes, and not much else unless you really want to get fancy with it. The Swiss Bakery in Springfield will set you up with all the shredded fromage you need, plus the bread. If you don’t still have your vintage fondue set left over from the ’70s, you can use a regular kitchen pot and everyday forks in a pinch. A conversation starter: Does your group want to keep up the tradition that if a man loses his bread cube in the cheese, he has to provide the next round of drinks, and if a woman does, she has to kiss her neighbors? —K.K.
Do a Polar Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics.
On January 15, don a swimsuit and head to the Mosaic District to brrrave the cold and raise funds for more than 23,000 Virginia athletes. Oh, what’s that you say? You’re busy that day? Conveniently, there is another Polar Plunge in NoVA: February 19 at Leesylvania State Park, where you’ll take an icy dip in the Potomac. —K.K.
Shop like you’re in Europe.
One of the best reasons to be on the Continent this time of year is strolling, eating, and shopping the Christmas markets. Whether you’re in Scotland, Germany, or the Czech Republic, you’ll find lovingly crafted wares sure to make someone’s holiday. But a trip abroad isn’t in the cards for all of us, especially this year. That’s why we’re marking our calendars for the Herndon WinterMarkt. On December 11, we’ll be going mad for Teutonic cuisine like schnitzel and spaetzle from Coburger Bistro, pretzels from Nordic-Knot, and strudel from Little Austria. While we munch, we’ll be listening to German-style bands (and crossing our fingers for tuba music) and perusing a wide array of local, artisan goods. —A.L.
Learn to bake that one favorite bread.
Dreaming of flaky croissants or that perfect crusty baguette? Make them yourself!
Melinda Friend invites fledgling bakers to her laboratory, known as Knead & Know, to learn how to make their favorites, whether it’s one of the aforementioned specialties, bagels, Japanese milk bread, or holiday breads like babka. Baking isn’t the be-all, end-all, either. Expect to drink wine and enjoy good cheese when you join her in The Plains, too. —A.L.
Make your own hot-chocolate bombs.
You learned last year that there are few winter pleasures as great as getting cozy with a hot-chocolate bomb. The thin shells give way to an explosion of marshmallows, cocoa, and other sweet treats. It turns out there’s one even more satisfying way to enjoy the trendy drink—by designing and crafting your own. At River-Sea Chocolates in Chantilly, the chocolatiers will teach you how to combine spices, fruit powders, and more to make your comforting sip unique. Go home with four unique bombs, plus the knowledge you need to make them at home. —A.L.
Write an old-fashioned snail mail letter using local-pride stationery.
Surprise your friends and fam with a handwritten envelope in their mailbox. We like Torie Partridge’s line of cards featuring illustrated maps of nearby towns and neighborhoods, including Arlington, Del Ray, Old Town Alexandria, and NoVA. Stock up at her Terratorie Maps + Goods shop in DC or at her online shop. —K.K.
Dine out next to a crackling fire.
Ask for a table near the fireplace at Magnolia’s on King or 219 Restaurant (both in Alexandria), Magnolias at the Mill (Purcellville), Tuscarora Mill Restaurant (Leesburg), Trummer’s Restaurant (Clifton), 2941 Restaurant (Falls Church) … the list of eateries with this cozy perk goes on and on. —K.K.
Ride the North Pole Express.
The Potomac Eagle Scenic Railroad cuts a picturesque path through the mountains of West Virginia all year long, but during the holidays, the train is transformed into the North Pole Express. Hop aboard the 75-minute interactive ride, where you’ll snack on cookies, cider, and hot chocolate; listen to the sounds of your favorite Christmas carols; and rendezvous with Kris Kringle himself at the “North Pole.” Children are encouraged to bring along their letters to Santa, and each will receive a special gift. —R.S.
Go for a sleigh ride in Fredericksburg.
The 40-block National Historic District that stretches through Fredericksburg is an inspired representation of Christmas past, with flickering streetlamps, Americana architecture, and stores decorated for the season. One of the best ways to tour this enchanting town is on a horse-drawn sleigh. Fredericksburg’s Olde Towne Carriage Tours offers three options: a romantic private tour, the family-friendly Jingle Bell Ride, and the Victorian Greenery & Ivy Tour highlighting Fredericksburg’s 18th- and 19th-century homes. As you pass by Historic Kenmore and the Mary Washington House, you’ll learn how the Washington clan celebrated a colonial Christmas. Every 45-minute carriage ride is private, reserved for just your group or family. Bring a warm blanket and get ready to snuggle. —R.S.
Take a candlelight tour of Mount Vernon.
The first president’s estate offers multiple ways to ring in the holidays, including a selfie station with George and Martha Washington, meetups with Aladdin the Christmas camel, and a fireworks show over the Potomac River choreographed to holiday music. There are also lantern-lit tours led by costumed guides who share stories of the Washington family’s holiday traditions. Tours run every weekend through December 19 and include cookies and cider in the Reynolds Museum & Education Center Lobby. —R.S.
Keep calm and carry on at Oatlands Holiday Afternoon Tea.
Channel your inner Jane Austen this winter at Oatlands Historic House & Gardens. The Loudoun County mansion is beribboned and bedecked, representing how the Carter family, who owned it, would have celebrated the holidays at the turn of the 19th century. Afternoon Tea is served in the Carriage House, and on the menu are elegant tea sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, sweet treats, and Oatlands’ own tea blend. Afterward, take a walk through the classic English gardens, keeping an eye out for Mr. Darcy. —R.S.
Sled like a pro.
Here are three great NoVA hills to hit. Last one to the bottom is a rotten egg!
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Alexandria
This is a great hill for maximum speed, especially on icy snow. There’s a parking lot for easy in-and-out. Just use the bathroom before you leave the house, because the venue is closed due to COVID. 101 Callahan Dr., Alexandria
Park Ridge Elementary School, North Stafford
This slope is often full on particularly snowy days, so going during off-hours might be best (early in the morning and right before dusk). If there’s a snow day, parking is easy—you can use the school lot. If you’re newer to the neighborhood, this is a great place to get to know members of your community. 2000 Parkway Blvd., Stafford
Ida Lee Park, Leesburg
Ida Lee Park Recreation Center in Leesburg is a one-stop shop for the whole family. Non-sledders will love that they can take fitness classes or use the indoor pools and basketball courts. Kids can tire themselves out with endless rides on a great hill on the park grounds. 60 Ida Lee Dr. NW, Leesburg —K.O.
Go tubing at Bryce Resort in Basye.
Most winter sports require at least some coordination. Not snow tubing—just hold on tight and slide down a hill, no talent required. Bryce Resort in the Shenandoah Valley has 800-foot lanes that propel your inner tube at the right speed to be exhilarating but not scary. It’s truly a blast for all ages. To get to the top of the mountain, your tire is attached to a conveyor belt that swoops you up a track. Then it’s all downhill from there. Sessions run 90 minutes and begin every half-hour. Even when there’s no real snow, Bryce makes plenty of it. —R.S.
Make your best figure eight.
Most outdoor rinks remain open through the end of February. To skim across a slab of ice in the open air, try these five local rinks: Winter Village at Cameron Run in Alexandria, Reston Town Center Ice Pavilion, Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice-Skating in Arlington, Stonebridge Ice Rink at Potomac Town Center in Woodbridge, and Harris Pavilion in Historic Manassas. —R.S
Ski down a mountain at Canaan Valley Resort.
Canaan Valley boasts some of the highest vertical feet in the mid-Atlantic and gets plenty of snow—around 180 inches annually—for your winter ski or snowboarding trip. The resort’s 47 trails range from beginner to advanced, and if you’re new to the sport, or just want to improve your skills, sign up for lessons. For a break from the skis, Canaan Valley offers ice-skating, snow tubing, and snowshoeing, too. With charming accommodations like rustic A-frame chalets and a full-service lodge, this is the winter getaway you need right now. —R.S.
Buy the best “homemade” pastries around.
Alexandria Pastry & Café’s extensive winter/holiday menu is full of specialties like pumpkin-and-cranberry cheesecake and an apple tart with walnuts and cranberries. They’ve been perfecting their recipes for over 30 years, so the goodies taste like family baked them up right in your own kitchen. —K.O.
Watch a parade in historic Warrenton.
The villagers in Fauquier County’s charming town of Warrenton love a parade. On December 3, before the official start time of 6 p.m. (because it gets crowded), find a spot on Main Street to watch the pageantry roll by: firetrucks bedecked with glowing lights, marching bands, floats, carolers, and, of course, Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The parade ends with a blast of fireworks, making it one of the best in the region. —R.S.
See the lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Ooh! Ahh! Get ready to hear gasps over and over as visitors stroll through Meadowlark Botanical Gardens’ Winter Walk of Lights. Wander past the blue, green, and red pavilion reflected onto a crystalline pond occupied with radiant swans. Pass fences illuminated in strands of red, branches lined with silver bulbs, nostalgic scenes of ice-skaters, and a field of colorful flowers. Warm up by the fire pits with a hot cup of cider. It’s so magical, you’ll want to make it a family tradition. —R.S.
Have a fabulous staycation at the sparkling new Watermark Hotel and Capital One Hall in Tysons Corner.
First, check into a luxe, spacious suite. (They’re all suites.) Pour yourself a drink from the pantry-style kitchen, or try a craft cocktail at Wren, the hotel’s posh restaurant and bar. Then stroll over to the adjoining Perch, the rooftop green space at Capital One Hall, the hot new destination in town for Broadway and other big touring shows. This winter brings everything from a live production of A Charlie Brown Christmas to a Jennifer Nettles holiday show to a Kansas concert to a Clint Black night of country. —K.K.
Knit a scarf with local, breed-specific fibers.
Solitude Wool in Loudoun County sells skeins from 15 different types of sheep, including fine merino, downy Dorset, and coarser Shetland. The five female shepherds behind the company compare choosing your wool to selecting just the right grapes for different varietals of wine. If they aren’t coming to a craft show near you soon, shop (and learn more) online at their site.—K.K.
Go to A Christmas Carol at Ford’s Theatre.
Spend a memorable winter evening at historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, where the retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens will reinvigorate your commitment to relishing all the holidays have to offer. The theater has strict safety precautions in place for the 75-minute reimagined production. The messages from this beloved play stand the test of time: Don’t work so much that you feel grumpy, make time for those you love, and don’t let holiday celebrations pass you by. —R.S.
Scour a Christmas tree farm for the absolutely perfect specimen.
There’s something magical about running through the endless rows of evergreens in the blistering cold, searching for that one special tree. Steven Wolff, owner of Snickers Gap Tree Farm, gets it. His father gradually built the company back when surrounding Loudoun County was much more rural and less populated. “We have customers who visited Snickers Gap as children with their parents and are now bringing their own kids to select and cut a tree,” says Wolff. “The emotional connection they have to the activity and our farm is sometimes shockingly powerful. We’re constantly reminded that while they are getting a beautiful, fresh tree, they’re often also engaging in an outdoor ritual with a meaning that goes a bit past easy explanation.” —M.H.
Cozy up in an igloo.
Those adorable see-through igloos were a thing before the pandemic, and now, they’re more relevant than ever. Invite your pod to join you inside a heated geodesic dome enclosed with clear panes and outfitted with stylish furnishings. Up to eight people can fit inside the 12-foot-wide igloos to dine, drink, and take in the glittering lights of the holiday season. The Watergate Hotel in DC serves Sunday afternoon tea in its igloos. At the Kimpton Lorien Hotel in Old Town Alexandria, reserve an igloo and order from the menu at King & Rye. Farm Brew Live’s 2 Silos Brewing in Manassas has nearly a dozen igloos. Bear Chase Brewing in Loudoun County has six heated igloos on the brewery’s lawn with stunning views of the Virginia countryside. Not quite as big are the Bubbles at Barrel Oak Winery in Delaplane, which can accommodate up to six people. Even with the heaters on, remember: You’re still in an igloo. Bring blankets and dress accordingly. —R.S.
Sip a mug of the best hot chocolate in NoVA.
That would be at Chateau de Chantilly, the cozy-chic café where the sofas are velvet, the ceilings are high, and the drinking chocolate is made from melted dark chocolate, not a powder. One taste of the rich, thick, creamy elixir, and you may never go back to Swiss Miss. —K.K.