Everything You Need to Know About Visiting DC’s National Christmas Tree This Year

The ceremony is closed to the public this year, but you can still watch it on TV or visit all season long.

white house national christmas tree
National Christmas Tree | Flickr/John Sonderman
National Christmas Tree | Flickr/John Sonderman

Now that the holiday season is back in full swing, it’s time to revisit all of the seasonal events that make the holidays in DC so magical.

Visiting the National Christmas Tree next to the White House is a time-honored tradition for Washingtonians that is celebrating its 99th iteration this year. As was the case last year due to COVID-19, the public won’t be able to snag tickets to see the tree light up for the first time in person, however, you can plan a visit to the tree throughout December and watch the ceremony on TV. Here’s everything you need to know before visiting the tree this month.

When and where does the tree lighting take place?

The official lighting of the National Christmas Tree takes place on the Ellipse in President’s Park next to the White House. The ceremony takes place on Thursday, December 2, and the public can plan an up-close and personal visit on or after December 4.

Can I watch the ceremony on TV?

Yes. CBS will broadcast the 2021 ceremony nationally on Sunday, December 5 at 8:30 pm EST. The event is presented by the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation, celebrating an American tradition that is now in its 99 years in the making.

What will I see?

The 27-foot wide tree is a white fir—the first of its kind to serve as the National Christmas Tree. In addition to this behemoth delivered from a farm in Pennsylvania, there are also dozens of smaller trees, decorated with one-of-a-kind ornaments made by students representing every US state, territory, and, yours truly, the District of Columbia. You can preview the artwork on the National Park Foundation’s website.

If you tune in for the ceremony’s TV debut, you’ll see the tree light up for the first time, along with holiday performances by Billy Porter, Chris Stapleton, H.E.R., Juanes, Keb’ Mo’, Kristin Chenoweth, Maren Morris, and Patti LaBelle.

When can I see the tree IRL?

The tree is open to the public for viewing from December 4 through January 1, 2022. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 10 am to 10 pm, and Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm.

How do I get there?

Parking is limited around the White House, and DC traffic is, well... DC traffic. So the best way to get to the National Christmas Tree is by public transit to the McPherson Station (Blue/Orange line). Otherwise, you might consider taking Capital Bikeshare or a scooter to the White House.

Is there anywhere to eat and drink nearby?

You bet! With so many downtown businesses reopened, it’s never been easier to snag a table at some of the most sought-after restaurants in the city. There are some great bars nearby as well, in case you need some pre- or post-tree refreshments.

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Tim Ebner is an award-winning food, drink, and travel writer. He lives on Capitol Hill and has a weakness for Old Bay Seasoning. Follow him on Twitter: @TimEbner.