The city of Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington, has been called one of the most magical Christmas towns in the United States.
Thousands of people come to enjoy the ambiance of the historic Old Town section or to visit the nearby Mount Vernon Estate and its mansion, the former home of George Washington, who served as the first U.S. president from 1789–1797.
There also are more modern homes in the city with bright outdoor Christmas displays. One of the most spectacular is the over-the-top display at the Farmer family house.
Old Town Alexandria was founded in 1749. Located on the Potomac River, it was a thriving seaport during the colonial era.
Visitor Keira DeMarco from Bethesda, Maryland, strolled down the 18th-century streets, admiring the centuries-old row houses.
“It’s really pretty here during Christmas,” she said. “I like the way people decorate their homes with garlands and put wreaths on their doors.”
Near the waterfront, Old Town sparkles in white.
A large Christmas tree blanketed in white bulbs takes center stage.
A canopy of twinkling white lights brightens the historical buildings on King Street, which features unusual restaurants and shops.
Adding to the ambiance is Gadsby’s Tavern Restaurant with its colonial-clad servers. Opened as a tavern in 1792, Washington was a frequent guest.
Eric Marcinski from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, dined at the restaurant with some friends. “It’s very festive in Old Town and having dinner at a place Washington went to makes it even better.”
Christmas, in Washington’s time
A short ride south by car — and a lot longer by horseback as Washington would have done — is the former president’s home of Mount Vernon along the Potomac River.
The estate lights up for two days of Christmas illuminations and provides candlelight tours that talk about the holiday traditions of the 18th century.
When visitor Rob Maynard from New York saw Christmas trees in the visitors center, he was surprised to learn Mount Vernon wasn’t decorated at Christmas. That’s because during colonial times the holiday was low key and there also weren’t any presents.
“It sure isn’t like that today,” he said. “I wish Christmas was less commercialized and more about spending time with friends and family.”
Christmas at Mount Vernon also features a camel named Aladdin who usually lives on a farm in Virginia but has been a fixture at the estate during the holiday season for the past 15 years.
The reason goes back to George Washington.
In 1789, Washington met a man with a camel who was traveling through the area during Christmastime. Washington paid him to bring the animal to Mount Vernon for a few days for the enjoyment of his guests.
Subtle to fantastic
Today, for the enjoyment of his visitors, Kurt Farmer is providing an entirely different experience with his never-too-many decorations display for about a week at Christmastime.
On a quiet street in Alexandria, his yard and house — even the roof — are covered with thousands of lights and with hundreds of plastic and inflatable carolers, snowmen, toy soldiers and more.
Some are newer, while others are vintage.
There’s a large collection of Santa Claus characters, including the jolly old man with his reindeer, which was hung from a tree.
“The flying Santa takes me back to my childhood,” said Farmer, who grew up in the house. “It’s in the same place I remember for the past 40 years.”
His father started the Christmas tradition, and Farmer continued it after he and his family moved into his boyhood home. It takes him 400 hours to set up the display.
While most visitors are local, others come from farther away.
“The Washington airport is not far from my house, and one night a pilot pointed out my Christmas display to the passengers on board,” he said. “A week later some of the flight attendants on that flight came to my house after finding it on social media.”
Some people come in their pajamas, even groups of adults, Farmer said.
“Maybe it gives them a feeling of home, so they come in something that feels cozy to them,” he said.
Farmer enjoys the “wow” reaction he gets from adults and kids as they look around.
“I’m glad I can provide a bit of happiness for people for a short time,” he said.
For Enrique Alvarez and his daughter Elena, it’s a tradition they look forward to every year.
“It makes us so happy,” he said and smiled. “No matter what my day was like, when I come here, I feel good.”