Explore Washington D.C.

Virginia by Candlelight

At Mount Vernon, the riverside home of George and Martha Washington, “Martha” herself (above) and some of the couple’s “family” and “friends” treat guests to an 18th-century Christmas evening. By flickering candlelight, explore the property that Washington acquired in 1754 and, for 40-plus years, renovated and expanded to suit his varied needs. Rooms in festive décor include the large dining area where, on April 14, 1789, the secretary of Congress told Washington he had been elected the first U.S. president. They may have then celebrated with Martha’s “great cake,” whipped up for special occasions with 40 eggs and four pounds of butter. View a sample in the detached kitchen, and take home a (be thankful) modernized version of the recipe. The evening ends with fireside caroling, hot cider and ginger cookies. Mount Vernon by Candlelight runs weekends through December 18. Old Town Alexandria dims the electric bulbs too, with a candlelight tour December 10 and 11 taking visitors back to the 1860s. Early characters and customs figure at Gadsby’s Tavern, a favorite haunt of the founding fathers and Civil War officers; Lee-Fendall House, home to 37 members of the Lee family; Carlyle House, owned by city founder John Carlyle and used as a Civil War hospital; and Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum, whose customers included Martha Washington. Order tickets ($20, children $5) at www.historicalexandria.org.

—Brooke Sabin