Holiday festivities at the Wharf

Anna Arnsberger and Amelia Bergeron

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You may already know of the annual White House Christmas tree lighting or the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker” performances, but the District’s Holiday Boat Parade is a hidden gem to add to your list of local holiday festivities. This 27-year-old annual DC and Virginia tradition is a merry way to get into the winter spirit.

This year’s event, held on December 1, did not disappoint with a variety of entertainment that we got to enjoy. We began the evening with a walk around the Wharf, exploring the various holiday-themed happenings being held. Tents interspersed the pathways along the water, housing wine, and beer gardens, along with activities from ornament decorating to balloon animals. Even Santa Claus was there, taking photos with kids.

We were immediately drawn to the bonfire, where carolers in full Victorian attire serenaded marshmallow roasters. Eager to find the source of these delicious treats, we headed over to a small camper where build-your-own s’mores packages were being sold. The s’mores making did not go as smoothly as we had hoped, starting with a serious dilemma over which of the four flavors to choose (we finally settled with the classic chocolate and peanut pretzel), and followed by some spillage of ingredients (seriously, they need to work on their packaging).

A small concert was held at the end of the District Pier, and while we could write a whole separate article about just this band, Go Go Gadjet, we’ll try to keep this short and sweet. We had two major takeaways from the concert: mini trumpet and squeegee. The band’s setlist of boppy covers, including “Finesse” and “Cake By The Ocean,” had three-year-olds and middle-aged couples alike up and bouncing. What made this band so unique was their slightly awkward dance moves and occasional rap appearances by a 40-something emcee wearing skinny jeans. Despite their quirks, the band’s musical talent and unusual instruments entertained a growing crowd, even when they mopped the stage halfway through a song.

The live music winded down by 7 p.m., and we walked closer to the water in preparation for the main event. A DC fire department boat kicked off the parade, with Santa himself coming out of the chimney (how he got from the pier to this boat so fast remains a mystery). Dozens of more boats followed, each donning their own individual display of lights and holiday decor. Favorites include a “The Nightmare Before Christmas” scene, a Hanukkah party ship, and a sailboat with a guitarist hanging from the mast. Passengers themselves went all-out in the costumes as well; we must have seen 10 more Santa Clauses, both Elvis and Freddie Mercury impersonators, Buddy the elf, and even a flossing reindeer. Throughout the whole event, the crowd added personal comments and lots of cheers, especially for a Washington Capitals boat that gave three honks for a resounding “Let’s go Caps!” from land.

Once the parade of boats finally ended, the night was not yet over. Spectators enjoyed an impressive show of fireworks over the Potomac River. Although we left with frozen toes and fingers, we had a new festive spirit as it finally felt like the start of the holiday season. Between endless sparkly lights and fake snow machines, the Wharf DC’s boat parade created a perfect environment to welcome December.