The National Christmas Tree stands in the Ellipse, a park just south of the White House (for those of you not great with compass directions like me, it is the grassy area between Constitution Ave and the White House). The tree has actually been planted there in the Ellipse. Because trees seem to have a hard time surviving in that spot, the tree has been replaced many times over the years, for different reasons.
In the beginning of December, the President of the United States lights the tree in a ceremony attended by those lucky enough to win a lottery ticket. I have never been one of the lucky ones, but I have to admit that many years, like this one, I have just plain forgot to enter the lottery online.
Although we never have been to the tree lighting ceremony, we always make sure that we make it to DC to walk around the tree and enjoy the lights and atmosphere.
This year we headed down on a Sunday evening and easily found a parking spot along Constitution Ave, which was just a short walk to the Christmas tree. Although there weren’t a lot of parking spots available, there were a few available. As we were pulling in to our parking spot, we even saw a few more spots become available.
We then walked the short distance to the tree, where we enjoyed the lights and the Pathway of Peace. The Pathway of Peace is a path around the National Christmas Tree spotted with a bunch of smaller trees; each smaller tree representing a state or US territory.
Around the base of the National Christmas Tree are a number of model train sets, which are quite mesmerizing and fun to watch.
If you time your visit on the right day and time, you may get to hear a concert from a local performing group. Check out the schedule for the performing groups here: http://www.nps.gov/whho/planyourvisit/national_christmas_tree_music_program.htm. Also while you’re looking at different sites about the National Christmas Tree, visit this one: http://thenationaltree.org/event-history/; it’s an interesting look back at the history of the tree.
After you’ve visited the National Christmas tree, if you’re looking for more to do, drive down Constitution Ave to the Capitol. In front of the Capitol (on the west side) is their Christmas tree.
On a Sunday night, there was plenty of available parking in the SAA parking area (The Sargeant at Arms/Senate parking—see more below about this parking option) right in front of the Capitol. We parked there and then made the very, short walk to see the Capitol tree from there.
Although a bit cold (thank goodness for thermals),
our night was very relaxed, low-key and really pleasant just enjoying the trees, the lights and the city at night. All the way home, we dreamed of having hot chocolate and donuts, but ending up settling for homemade milkshakes instead. Of course, no one complained; they were very yummy, just not very warm!
(Here is some information about the SAA parking near the Capitol. While visiting the Capitol Christmas tree, we ran into a Capitol policeman, and we asked him about parking in the area, particularly in the areas designated as SAA parking permit only. He said that the restriction is only enforced during the week when Congress is in session. You are pretty safe to park there on the weekend, holidays or even sometimes after 5:30 at night. Good to know!)
If you are looking for something to do that is low-key, free and want to get of the house, take a trip to see our National Christmas Tree. Just remember the thermals, hats and gloves, if it’s cold out. Enjoy!