One year ago: December 2011. A girl's bags are packed and she is literally "ready to go," just like John Denver was. She is leaving her home, her family to go miles away, halfway across the world, to the land of dreams, the U.S.A. Yes, she is scared. Yes, she is nervous. However, there is this small part of her which is jumping with excitement. And the reason for its excitement is not a normal one: after 19 years of Christmas in Pakistan, she is excited to finally witness the holiday in her dream land. Today, I, that girl, have come full circle, back to Washington, D.C. for that same holiday.
When my plane landed at the Washington Dulles airport on December 27 last year, I won't lie, I felt a bit lost. It was a new country, with new people and it was just so cold. But as I rode away from the airport, every house that was decorated with Christmas lights and reindeers and Santas would just make me so happy.
Decorations on a house in Queens, NY (Photo: Reuters)
A house in Alabama all decorated for Christmas (Photo: AP)
Lights on a California house (Photo: Reuters)
I know that maybe I am a little more excited when it comes to Christmas decor, but I was so happy when I got to see the must-see Christmas places in D.C. For anyone looking to get the holiday spirit, the capital city, with National Harbor, the National Tree, Shirlington, and much more, is one place you want to see in December.
On December 31st (yes, I remember the exact date) I made my way, with my cousins who were hosting me during my D.C. visit, to the National Harbor in Maryland; or more like bordering between Maryland, Virginia and D.C. There was a big tree there that was attracting iPhone cameras, and innumerable people were striking poses in front of it. For me, that tree represented something more: an American tradition that I was being exposed to.
The National Harbor Christmas tree lit up in 2011 (Creative commons photo: Nguyen Nguyen)
All my life I had seen smaller trees in people's homes but never before had I seen such a grand tree out in the open. I was left in awe. Adding to the atmosphere was the music playing in the background. It seemed like the Harbor was singing in tune for Christmas. And when I lifted my head up, I saw that the Harbor was dancing with the tunes. Lights were changing colors in sync with the music, switching from green to red to blue to gold.
As if the lights hadn't left me in enough awe, my cousins started walking towards the Gaylord National Resort. I expected to enter and see just another hotel lobby, but I was in for a surprise. It was filled with trees, and dimly lit green Christmas trees glided slowly on the glass ceiling too. Beneath those trees, a Disney wonderland for adults and children alike was set in place.
A display of How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Gaylord's 2010 ICE! show (Creative commons photo: Beechwood Photography)
The fountain show at the Gaylord National Resort, 2010 (Creative commons photo: Beechwood Photography)
My cousins had brought us there to see a water show, and I couldn?t understand what would be so great about a water show. But trust me, that water show was special, and even though you can catch it any day, seeing it surrounded by the Christmas festivities made it all the more amazing.
Next stop was the White House, not to be a tourist and see the president's house, but to see the National Tree (well, also to see the president?s house!). Surrounded by smaller trees representing each U.S. state and territory, the National Tree was a beautiful sight.
The Obama family lights the 2012 National Christmas Tree, along with Neil Patrick Harris (Photo: Reuters)
The 2011 National Christmas Tree, all lit up (Photo: AP)
While there, I also learned about the famous Rockefeller Center tree in the concrete jungle of New York. Whether it is the shop decorations, ice skating rink or Times Square Santas, New York City is one place I want to see during the holiday season.
Outside the city
Most of the people who visit D.C., or even live there, underestimate the beauty of the smaller cities around the capital and how enjoyable they can be. Walking beneath a row of decorated trees in Shirlington, Virginia in the December cold, I found that place as beautiful as D.C. itself.
Christmas lights in Shirlington, Virginia (Creative commons photo: Brett Davis)
Shirlington is one place I loved and would want to go again. Although, as far as I know, there is nothing grand or historic about that place, it still made me feel like I had just entered one of the fairy tales.
Since all of these sights can be seen every holiday season, I am making sure to re-visit them this year too, since I?m back in D.C. December 21st came and went, and the Mayans are regretting their prophecy, so let's make our survival worth it.