District Yuletide Traditions, Olde and New

The District has some great holiday traditions – from the lighting of the National Christmas Tree and Menorah, to the decorations in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, to present shopping in Georgetown.

But there’s always room for making new history, and so I added a couple of traditions to my holiday list this year.

One was Holiday Primetime Libations at the new Union Market.

I managed to catch the last of these end-of-week happy hours this past Friday, and it made me wish I had gone sooner. What better way to get into the the holiday spirit than by imbibing a few?

We sat at the bar of the excellent soda shop Buffalo & Bergen, which acquired its liquor license just this month. Lucky for us, because veteran DC mixologist Gina Chersevani whips up a great punch, as well as a cocktail list guaranteed to keep you warm.

Holiday spirits at Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market.
Holiday spirits at Buffalo & Bergen in Union Market.

The other new tradition on the list was ice skating with a view of the Potomac.

Okay, so I didn’t actually do any skating. But it was fun to watch the transformation of the fountain at Washington Harbour into an ice rink, and it’s an iconic addition to the Georgetown waterfront. So much so that it seems like it’s always been there, although this is its first year of operation.

Ice skating at Washington Harbour in Georgetown.
Ice skating at Washington Harbour in Georgetown.

There are other places for iconic outdoor ice skating in the District – from the prestigious Pershing Park on Pennsylvania Avenue (although it was closed this year), to the classy National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, and the cool new Canal Park on the Southwest waterfront.

But Washington Harbour is the largest and most impressive. It even bills itself as larger than the Rockefeller Center ice rink (take that New York!), and is open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

One venerable DC holiday tradition that was regrettably extinguished this year was the National Park Service’s “Ye Olde Yule Log,” an annual bonfire within sight of the White House.

I’m embarrassed to say that in all my years of living in the District – and with the name of Yule no less – this is a unique tradition I haven’t experienced in person. For more than fifty years, the National Park Service has tended this continuous bonfire for the month of December, feeding the flames with tree stumps removed from our local national parks.

The fire pit was located on the Ellipse, just south of the White House and the National Christmas Tree, truly making this our National Yule Log.

But this year the fire pit was displaced after the National Park Service rearranged the holiday display in President’s Park, temporarily relegating the bonfire to the ash heap of history. It seems like there is enough of a devoted fan base though to light a fire under the Park Service and get it reinstated next year.

Let’s hope this is one tradition I can finally add to my holiday list in 2013.

In the meantime, the annual TV broadcast of the Yule Log will have to suffice. Stay warm, and Happy Christmas Eve!

The annual Yule Log broadcast from NYC's WPIX, also shown on DC's WDCW on Christmas Day.
The annual Yule Log broadcast from NYC’s WPIX, also shown on DC’s WDCW on Christmas Day.
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