There’s no better place across the nation’s capital to get in the holiday spirit than the lavishly decorated Mount Vernon, George Washington’s expansive estate on the Potomac River. George and Martha knew how to celebrate the holidays — in 1787, in fact, the soon-to-be president surprised his guests with a live exotic camel for the Christmas festivities. Starting Friday, Mount Vernon continues the Washingtons’ holiday traditions with festive celebrations through January — and yes, Mount Vernon’s resident camel, Aladdin, will be in attendance. The mansion will be decorated with a dozen Christmas trees and hand-cut greenery, providing the perfect backdrop for Colonial Christmas activities, including character-led tours of the home, storytelling, chocolate-making demonstrations, and 18th-century dancing and music. The estate also boasts more special guests on the grounds: recently pardoned national Thanksgiving turkeys. Visit the gift shop for unique holiday gifts, or enjoy dinner by the fire at the Mount Vernon Inn after the candlelit evening programs. Through Jan. 6 at Historic Mount Vernon, 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Alexandria. Phone: 703/780-2000. Web: www.mountvernon.org/christmas.
Theater: ‘Pullman Porter Blues’
“Pullman Porter Blues,” a new musical by award-winning playwright Cheryl L. West, opens Friday at Washington’s Arena Stage after debuting at the Seattle Repertory Theatre earlier this fall. The show, which takes place in 1937, tells the story of the Pullman Co. train sleeper-car porters, many of whom were former slaves and would be critical players in the civil rights and labor rights movements. The play follows three generations of the Sykes family, who work as porters on the luxurious Panama Limited train running from Chicago to New Orleans. In what’s billed as a “captivating coming-of-age story,” the Sykeses confront their difficult past and uncertain future — set to the sounds of a live band playing more than a dozen classic American blues songs, including “Sweet Home Chicago” and “See See Rider.” In a statement prior to the Seattle premiere, Ms. Wright said she was inspired by the Pullman porters, including her grandfather, who were always “compulsively smiling” as they worked. Through Jan. 6 at the Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Phone: 202/554-9066. Web: www.arenastage.org.
Holiday Newseum Family Day: ‘Yes, Virginia’
On Sept. 21, 1897, an 8-year-old girl named Virginia O’Hanlon became a Christmas celebrity when the New York Sun published her letter inquiring into the authenticity of Santa Claus. In what would become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history, Francis Pharcellus Church wrote, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” On Saturday at the Newseum, Santa Claus lives as Church predicted. Visitors can participate in a holiday-themed scavenger hunt, make a snow globe or picture frame to take home or donate to troops at Walter Reed National MIlitary Medical Center, or hear the big man in red himself read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” For older believers, Nikon Professional Services will present workshops on how to take better holiday photos, and American University journalism professor W. Joseph Campbell will discuss the famous editorial. The Newseum will provide free admission for any child who brings a new, unwrapped toy to donate to Toys for Tots. Saturday at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Phone: 202/292-6650. Web: www.newseum.org.
Lecture: ‘Bond Villains: The Reality Behind the Evil’
James Bond gets all the attention — especially this year, with the release of the latest silver screen chapter “Skyfall,” again starring Daniel Craig as the illustrious agent. What about those villains, though? After all, Bond wouldn’t have much to do except drink martinis without those pesky villains to defeat. Washington’s International Spy Museum has given them a deserved deeper look in the recently opened exhibit, “Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains,” and Wednesday evening, will explore them in detail during a lecture on their historical influences and evolution over the past five decades. From the very first villain, 1962’s Dr. No, to the latest evildoer, cybervillain Raoul Silva, three intelligence historians will discuss the villains in their historical context and the eerie resemblances between the films and the facts. Bond fanatics won’t want to miss the accompanying exhibit, which features historical artifacts and documents as well as film clips and props. Wednesday at the International Spy Museum, 800 F St. NW. Phone: 202/EYE-SPYU. Web: www.spymuseum.org.
Concert: Men Without Hats with Right the Stars
Men Without Hats, the New Wave group founded in 1977 in Montreal, may have had only two hits, but they were big ones. Whether or not you’re a fan of ‘80s music, you’ve likely danced to “The Safety Dance” (“We can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind”), which peaked at No. 3 on the 1983 Billboard Dance Chart, or “Pop Goes the World,” the catchy tune now featured on commercials for Tide detergent. Though the group members have changed over the years, Men Without Hats re-emerged in 2010, led by founder and deep-voiced lead vocalist Ivan Doroschuk, and released their seventh album a year later. The group will bring their danceable electropop to the State Theatre on Thursday, joined by Right the Stars. The band members describe themselves as “Paul Simon meets Keane backstage at a Phoenix concert.” Thursday at the State Theatre, 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. Phone: 703/237-0300. Web: www.thestatetheatre.com.