our christmas eve tradition at washington national cathedral

Tuesday, December 24: Our family has a longstanding tradition of visiting Washington National Cathedral on the morning of Christmas Eve.  We always reenact the same ritual, and our children, even though they’re grown now, insist that we don’t change one aspect of it.  Even while I was gone for the last three years in Korea and Oman, the family continued on the tradition without me.

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral

One of the main reasons we come on Christmas Eve is to see the annual exhibit of nativity scenes from around the world, which runs through January 12, 2014. This year’s exhibit, entitled “What Child is This,” is in the crypt (lower level), just outside the Bethlehem Chapel.  I’ll write another post about the exhibit, to follow this one.

the nave
the nave

We always start our visit by walking through the nave and admiring the architectural sculptures, wood carvings, leaded glass, mosaics, artistic metal work, and other works of art, including over 200 stained glass windows. Most of the decorative elements have Christian symbolism or are memorials to famous persons or events.

the nave
the nave
arches and stained glass
arches and stained glass
the pulpit
the pulpit
small altar in the main part of the Cathedral
small altar in the main part of the Cathedral

The richly decorated Gothic-style National Cathedral, completed in 1990, sits on a landscaped 57 acre plot of land on Mount Saint Albans in Northwest Washington, 400 feet above sea level. By some measures, the Cathedral is the sixth largest in the world, second largest in the United States. The top of the tower is the highest point in DC. The Cathedral is built primarily of gray Indiana limestone; some concrete and structural steel are used sparingly.

Children's Chapel
Children’s Chapel
ceiling of the children's chapel
ceiling of the children’s chapel
outside the children's chapel
outside the children’s chapel
the choir and organ
the choir and organ

President George Washington disclosed a plan for the “City of Washington, in the district of Columbia” on January 4, 1792; this plan set aside a lot designated for “A church intended for national purposes, …, assigned to the special use of no particular sect or denomination, but equally open to all.” Though the original lot wasn’t used for the Cathedral, the site at Mount Saint Albans was chosen over a century later.

poinsettia
poinsettia

The building of the cathedral finally started in 1907 with a ceremonial address by President Theodore Roosevelt.

over 500 year old tapestry of David and Goliath
over 500-year-old tapestry of David and Goliath

We walk through all the chapels, including the Holy Spirit Chapel, the Bethlehem Chapel and the Joseph of Arimathea Chapel.

After walking though the main church, the crypt and all the chapels, we take the elevator to the seventh floor, where we can see views of Washington and the exhibit “Though the Earth Be Moved,” a look at the impact of the 2011 earthquake on the Cathedral.

The Cathedral has been the location of many significant events, including the funeral services of Woodrow Wilson and Dwight Eisenhower. Its pulpit was the last one from which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke before his assassination. The Cathedral is the burial-place of many notable people, including Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, Admiral George Dewey, Bishop Satterlee and the architects Henry Vaughan and Philip Frohman (National Park Service: National Cathedral).

Washington National Cathedral
Washington National Cathedral
National Cathedral
National Cathedral

I’m so pleased to be back home again to celebrate the holidays with my family, after three long years away.  Last year in Oman, I had to work on Christmas Day. 😦

National Cathedral
National Cathedral
National Cathedral
National Cathedral

Finally, we walk out to the grounds, but as it’s a freezing day and we’re all hungry for our lunch at the Lebanese Taverna market in Arlington, we head home to finish getting ready for Christmas.

the Cathedral gardens
the Cathedral gardens

In the gift shop, we find a bumper sticker which shares a great message for the holiday.

COEXIST
COEXIST
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12 thoughts on “our christmas eve tradition at washington national cathedral

    1. Thanks so much about the photo, Jo. Now we’ve finished eating and we are being true slugs, lazing around reading and playing on the computer in front of a fire. Very cozy indeed. Hope your Christmas was fabulous!

  1. such beautiful photos! love the stained glass windows. wow! sounds like you had a nice holiday. what a great tradition to visit the national cathedral.

    1. I love it too, Carol. It was too bad my daughter couldn’t be here too, but she is split between her father’s family and ours, and we had her for Thanksgiving. Aren’t these traditions lovely?

  2. Hi Cathy. Sorry but I can only write a little. Our battery will finish soon. Yesterday it didn’t recharge much because of no power. We are hoping today we can recharge. Have a nice day. Hugs from Dai

  3. What a lovely tradition Cathy! I laughed out loud at the elevator – such a modern thing in a cathedral is strange to me living in a city where the cathedral is 1000 years old!

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