Not going home for Christmas? DC-area activities for a bright holiday season

WASHINGTON — So you didn’t save up enough money for an airline ticket or for some reason or another, you can’t make a trip home for the holidays this year. Fear not — you don’t have to spend the day listening to Marvin Gaye’s “I Want to Come Home for Christmas” while chugging eggnog. Here are some ideas that will keep you entertained, and most importantly, in cheery holiday spirits throughout the day.

Send presents home
One thing to plan for in advance: Don’t forget to send out gifts for your loved ones at home! Even if you didn’t get the chance to go home this Christmas, buying — or making — presents for your friends and family is a great way to show that you’re still thinking of them.

If Christmas cards and letters are more your style, make sure to personalize your message for each person so not everyone’s receiving just that generic photo of you and your cat in ugly Christmas sweaters. Make sure to act fast if you plan on sending cards, letters or packages and you want them to arrive before Christmas; holiday shipping deadlines are quickly approaching.

Have a Christmas Skype date
Use technology to your advantage to stay connected with and “see” your loved ones. Video chat allows you to say hello face-to-face (well, through video) to all the extended family gathered together at your parents’ place for the holidays. You might even be able to have a live video chat capturing gift-opening.

Check in with them throughout the day so you don’t feel completely left out of the holiday festivities. And even though you can’t smell the baked goods from back home, you’re just a candle away from those sweet fragrances. (Or, you can always pick up prepared cookie dough in advance and resist eating it raw.)

Host an expat potluck
You can’t be the only one not going home for Christmas. In the D.C. region full of expats, there’s bound to be a friend or two to invite over for your own potluck-style Christmas party. Ask attendees to come bearing white elephant gag gifts (or practical gifts, if that’s more your style) and their own special Christmas dishes for a holiday full of food, friends and laughter.

If hosting isn’t quite up your alley and Christmas Day cooking is out of the question, here’s a list of restaurants that will be open on the holiday, courtesy OpenTable and TripSavvy.

Be a tourist in your own town
The beauty of the D.C. region is in its history-packed monuments and memorials. Fill up your favorite thermos with hot chocolate and head out to see the monuments and best D.C. sights lit up under a Christmas night sky. Make sure to make these stops:

  • Georgetown: Walk around this historic part of D.C. and take in the free outdoor light art that goes on nightly until 10 p.m. through Jan. 7. Then, tie up your skates and glide across the largest outdoor skating rink in D.C. with some friends.
  • The Basilica in Brookland gets decked OUT for the holidays, and since it’s open all year round, you’re free to roam around the largest Roman Catholic Church in North America and take it all in.
  • The National Christmas Tree
  • U.S. Capitol Christmas tree
  • Union Station’s Christmas tree and Norwegian model trains
  • Check out the Gaylord’s walk-through display of scenes from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — carved from ice!
  • Take a glimpse of all the “Roadside Attractions” throughout America at the Botanic Garden. The holiday display is made completely from plant material and shows road-tripping sights found throughout the states.

Spread the holiday cheer through helping out neighbors in need. Here’s a guide to volunteering in the D.C. region. 

Continue Christmas traditions — or create your own
Even if you can’t gather with your family and loved ones on Christmas, you can always channel that special spirit on your very own by carrying on the traditions special to your typical Christmas crew.

Whether your mom played Michael Bublé’s “Christmas” album on repeat throughout the day or your family spent the day in Christmas pajamas, recreating these quirks on your own can bring a small piece of home right where you are.

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