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It's a wonderful time: A guide to holiday fun

The season brings extra cheer in 2021 with the return of in-person shows and events
Irish music and dance is featured in "A Celtic Christmas" Dec. 22 at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is ringing in the season with a classic more commonly seen on screens than on stages though right now, the same could be said for many holiday shows. That's because, unlike the Zoom-only festivities of December 2020, in-person plays, concerts and events are back.

TheatreWorks is among the many companies that have recently welcomed audiences back to theaters, though it's also continuing to offer a virtual option. The company is staging "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," which reimagines the classic film as a 1940s radio broadcast for the holidays. The play offers a heartwarming holiday tale and a fun, behind-the-scenes look at an old-time radio show.

But still, at the crux of the story: When good-hearted everyman George Bailey despairs that he's let everyone down, he gets a chance to learn how much his family, friends and town need him. He gets a peek at the alternate world that could have been had he not existed, and it's bleak (except for the part where his would-have-been-wife, Mary, becomes a librarian because librarians actually seem pretty cool.)

Like George, local arts groups and cultural institutions, including libraries, rallied heroically during the last 19 months, shifting to online and other creative ways to safely reach people. These new options continue to give groups the ability to expand audiences and make their offerings more accessible.

And now that we've all seen what life is like without in-person theater, concerts, galleries and other cultural spaces, this is our collective George Bailey moment for the arts: a chance to come back together in long-missed spaces with renewed joy and appreciation.

Read on for a collection of holiday performances and events most now presented in person, as well as some virtual options. Many venues require proof of vaccination or a negative test within 48 hours; as always, for in-person events, check for COVID-19 protocols before you go.

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley's production of "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play" takes place Dec. 1-26 at the Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Also offered via on-demand video.


The Thanksgiving Play & Eight Nights The Pear Theatre presents two nontraditional holiday plays running in repertory: Larissa FastHorse's "The Thanksgiving Play," a satire about a group of white people trying to plan a school Thanksgiving pageant that isn't offensive to Native American people and Jennifer Maisel's "Eight Nights," which follows a woman who survived the Holocaust through eight decades of Hanukkah celebrations.
When: Nov. 19-Dec. 12
Where: The Pear, 1110 La Avenida St., Suite A, Mountain View.

Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra Holiday Sing-along The Terrible Adult Chamber Orchestra (TACO) performs Christmas and Hanukkah music. The Community Womens Chorus will join TACO and lead a free public sing-along.
When: Nov. 28, 3-4:30 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Civic Center Plaza, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

Pacific Ballet Academy's "The Nutcracker" Pacific Ballet Academy presents its 30th annual performance of "The Nutcracker." This production offers a shortened performance for children, featuring just Act I, and a sensory-friendly performance of Act II with scaled-down lights and sound.
When: Nov. 26, 6 p.m.; Nov. 27, 1 and 6 p.m.; Nov. 28 children's performance, noon, and sensory-friendly performance, 2 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

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The Christmas Ballet Smuin Ballet presents its Christmas-themed performance, incorporating classical ballet and contemporary dance with traditional carols and pop favorites.
When: Dec. 2-3, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 4, 2 and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 5, 2 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

Every Brilliant Thing Los Altos Stage Company presents a one-person show that celebrates the things that make life worth living, in a surprising, very personal story that delves into depression, suicide, grief, healing and falling in love.
When: Dec. 3-19.
Where: Bus Barn Theater, 97 Hillview Ave. Los Altos.

Friends of Stanford Holiday Musicale 2021
The Friends of Music at Stanford present their annual holiday showcase with performances by Department of Music soloists and ensembles, including the Stanford Philharmonia and the Stanford Chamber Chorale.
When: Dec. 4, 2:30-4 p.m.
Where: Stanford Memorial Church, 450 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford.


California Bach Society A performance of the seldom-heard "Weinachtshistorie" ("Christmas Story") by 17th-century composer Heinrich Schtz for six-part choir, soloists and Baroque ensemble. The concert also features a retrospective of favorites from the society's Christmas Around the World concerts, with songs, carols, and choral works.
When: Dec. 4, 8 p.m.
Where: All Saints Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Holiday Traditions Concert
The Bay Choral Guild performs modern carols from Britain, Central and South America, a choral arrangement of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite and Christmas compositions, including the premiere of Sanford Doles "Peace on Earth.
When: Dec. 4, 8 p.m.
Where: First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto.

Holiday Handbell Concert Bell Appeal, a group sponsored by Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco, performs a variety of holiday music. Following the concert, the audience can meet the ringers and learn to ring a handbell.
When: Dec. 4, 1 p.m.
Where: 2200 Broadway, Redwood City.

Ballet America's Nutcracker
A slightly shortened production of the favorite holiday ballet, coming in at 1.5 hours, aims to keep the youngest audience members engaged. Featuring a cast of 75 local dancers.
When: Dec. 4, 2 and 6:30 p.m.; Dec. 5, 1:30 and 4 p.m.
Where: Carrington Hall, 1201 Brewster Avenue, Redwood City.
Info: .

Three Bachs of Christmas Bay Area choir Soli Deo Gloria presents Christmas music written by Johann Sebastian Bach and two of his sons, including cantatas by J.S Bach, a short oratorio by J.C.F. Bach, and a Magnificat by C.P.E. Bach.
When: Dec. 4, 3:30 p.m
Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 3149 Waverley St., Palo Alto.


Peninsula Ballet's Nutcrackers Peninsula Ballet presents a trio of "Nutcracker" productions: "Nutcracker Sweet," an abridged production for young audiences; "Hip-Hop Nutcracker," which mixes iconic pieces of the story and Tchaikovsky's score with hip-hop dance; and a full-length production of "The Nutcracker."
When: Nutcracker Sweet Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12, 11:30 a.m., 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.; Hip-Hop Nutcracker Dec. 17, 7 p.m. and Dec. 18. 2 p.m.; The Nutcracker Dec. 18, 7 p.m. and Dec. 19, 2 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City.

Christmas at the Fox Singer-songwriter Brandon Pasion performs an evening of Christmas songs, original music and stories of Christmases through the years. The night includes signature Christmas drinks and caroling, nostalgia.
When: Dec 5, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City.

Selected Shorts Stanford Live presents a series of short stories hosted by Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle") with performances by Jason Dirden ("American Soul"), and Kimberly Guerrero ("Reservation Dogs")
When: Dec. 5, 2:30pm
Where: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford.

Gil Shaham Stanford Live presents a solo program by violinist Gil Shaham featuring Johann Sebastian Bach, Scott Wheeler, and Max Raimi pieces.
When: Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford.

Bachs Christmas Oratorio Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra performs Bach's Christmas Oratorio, with the Philharmonia Chorale.
When: Dec. 10, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford.

Western Ballet Nutcracker The company presents the beloved holiday ballet.
When: Dec. 10, 7pm, Dec. 11 at 1 and 7pm; Dec. 12, 1pm
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

A Jazz Tribute to the Music of 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' Stanford Jazz Workshop presents a tribute to Vince Guaraldi's soundtrack album to "A Charlie Brown Christmas," the classic 1965 TV special.
When: Dec. 10, 7 p.m.; Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 12, 2 p.m.
Where: Campbell Recital Hall, Braun Music Center, Stanford


Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal: A Ceremony to Celebrate Being Together The Peninsula Women's Chorus presents a holiday concert featuring Alice Parkers setting of Hark, I Hear the Harps Eternal as well as works by Brahms, Britten, other choral favorites such as "Ave Maria," carols and seasonal songs.
When: Dec. 11, 2:30 p.m.
Where: St. Marks Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto.

CSMA Merit Scholars Holiday Concert The Community School of Music and Arts Merit Scholarship Student Ensembles perform favorite selections to celebrate the holidays.
When: Dec. 11, 5 p.m.
Where: CSMA's Tateuchi Hall, 230 San Antonio Circle
Mountain View and streaming on CSMA's YouTube channel

Fire & Ice Silicon Valley Boychoir presents a winter concert.
When: Dec. 12, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 3149 Waverley St., Palo Alto


Pink Martini Holiday Spectacular Fronted by vocalist China Forbes, the band plays a mix of classical, jazz and old-fashioned pop.
When: Dec. 12, 4 p.m.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, Stanford.

Stanford Holiday Organ Concert Stanford University organist Robert Huw Morgan presents a concert of seasonal music.
When: Dec. 12, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Church, 450 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford.

Ragazzi Boys Chorus The chorus performs "Mysteries and Miracles," a program of yuletide favorites and contemporary festive pieces. Performed in person in San Francisco and live streamed.
When: Dec. 12, 4 p.m.
Where: Livestreamed


A Chanticleer Christmas San Francisco's men's choir presents its annual holiday celebration.
When: Dec. 16, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Church, Stanford.

Holiday Concertos: Bach, Corelli & more Voices of Music presents their signature holiday program of concertos, including the Bach violin concerto in A Minor BWV 1041 performed by Rachell Ellen Wong.
When: Dec. 17, 7 p.m.
Where: First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto

The Gingerbread Man Palo Alto Children's Theatre presents a storyteller-style play for young audience members, suggested for ages 2 to 6.
When: Dec. 18, 10 a.m. and noon; Dec. 19, 10 a.m. and noon; Dec. 20, 10 a.m.
Where: 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto.

The Snow Queen Bayer Ballet Company presents a ballet danced by young artists about a child who embarks on a magical journey to save their best friend from the spell of the Snow Queen.
When: Dec. 18, 7 p.m. and Dec. 19, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

95894_colA Celtic Christmas Irish storyteller Tomseen Foley leads a cast of dancers and musicians in a re-creation of a night before Christmas in the west of Ireland in the 1940s, where neighbors would gather to dance and play fiddles flutes, bodhrans and uilleann pipes.
When: Dec. 22, 7 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
Info: CPA Box Office: 650-903-6000 or

Woodside Village Band The band performs a holiday concert.
When: Dec. 18, 3 p.m.
Where: Woodside Village Church, 3154 Woodside Road, Woodside

Community Gatherings & Special Events

Ernie's Trains John Bianco continues his late father's tradition of putting on a holiday model train display.
When: Weather permitting, five tracks will run trains every evening (except Mondays) Nov. 25 through Dec. 24, 6:30-9 p.m.
Where: 2387 Adele Ave., Mountain View.


Holidays at Filoli The Filoli estate has decorated its sprawling gardens and historic mansion for the holidays. Activities include Santa Weekends (Dec. 4-5, 11-12 and 18-19); Monday theme nights, including Hanukkah Lights to a Holiday PJ Party, and a chance to relax on the terrace by a fire with refreshments such as spirits and cider.
When: Open daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (except Dec. 24-25) through Jan. 2.
Where: Filoli Historic Home & Garden, 86 Caada Road, Woodside.

IluminOdyssey CuriOdyssey offers a winter light display for children and families, with laser art, hands-on exhibits and a forest of touchable, glowing sculptures.
When: Through Jan. 9
Where: CuriOdyssey, ??1651 Coyote Point Drive, San Mateo.

Los Altos Festival of Lights Parade Downtown Los Altos' annual Festival of Lights Parade features floats, marching bands and more.
When: Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
Where: Downtown Los Altos
Info: Downtown Los Altos will also hold a tree-lighting celebration Dec. 3, 6-8 p.m.;

Sharing the Healing Light of Hanukkah Jewish Family and Children's Services offers a program of stories, teaching, song, humor and ritual that explores the meaning of Hanukkah.
When: Nov. 30, 2 p.m.
Where: Online

Hanukkah Celebration at Stanford Shopping Center A celebration that includes music and a puppet show by Octopretzel, crafts for kids, dreidel games and a candle lighting ceremony.
When: Dec. 2, 5-6:30 p.m.
Where: Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto

City of Palo Alto Tree Lighting Live entertainment, tree lighting and a toy drive are featured at this city celebration.
When: Dec. 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Lytton Plaza, University Avenue and Emerson Street, Palo Alto.

West Bay Model Railroad Holiday Train Show Model trains of various types will run in a holiday scene while members answer questions. Masks required and visitors are asked not to crowd around the layout.
When: Dec. 4-5, 1-4 p.m.
Where: Southside of Caltrain station, 1090 Merrill St., Menlo Park.

BayLUG Holiday Show The Bay Area LEGO User Group and BayLTC, the Bay Area L-Gauge Train Club will showcase their annual holiday miniature scene, this year with a jungle theme.
When: Dec. 4-Jan. 9 (Sat.-Sun, 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m, closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1)
Where: Museum of American Heritage, 351 Homer Ave., Palo Alto


Gamble Garden Winter Wonderland The historic Palo Alto home and garden offers a European-style marketplace, arts and crafts for kids, free ice cream, green arrangements and wreaths for sale, a vintage houseware collection sale and holiday trees for auction. Santa, the Grinch and the Snow Queen will also be on hand.
When: Dec. 3, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto.

Caltrain Holiday Train Caltrain's festive Holiday Train will make nine stops along the Peninsula, with lights, entertainment, characters and a chance for locals to donate a new, unwrapped toy to the annual toy drive.
When: Dec. 4-5
Where: The train will stop in Redwood City, 6:10 p.m., and Mountain View, 6:50 p.m., on Dec. 4 and in Menlo Park at 7:25 p.m. on Dec. 5.


Hometown Holidays Redwood City's annual celebration includes a community parade, a snow lot, holiday vendors, performances from local entertainers, culminating in a tree lighting.
When: Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Where: Downtown Redwood City.

Gamble Garden Festival of Trees Visitors can stroll among holiday trees decorated by creative individuals, groups, and organizations. The event also includes wreath sales, holiday arrangements, a bake sale and music. All trees are available for purchase by silent auction to benefit Gamble Garden.
When: Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Where: Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto

Hanukkah Party of Lights The Jewish Baby Network hosts a virtual Hanukkah celebration with dancing, singing, puppets, blessings and a community menorah candle lighting.
When: Dec. 5, 10:30 a.m.
Where: Online

Menorah Lighting at Palo Alto City Hall A Hanukkah celebration in front of Palo Alto's City Hall, sponsored by Chabad Palo Alto, with crafts and activities, a chocolate gelt drop, latkes and donuts.
When: Dec. 5, 4:30 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.
City of Mountain View Tree Lighting Local performances, tributes to multicultural and diverse traditions, free refreshments, a train ride, the lighting of the community tree and a visit from Santa.
When: Dec. 6, 5:30-8 p.m.
Where: Civic Center Plaza, 500 Castro St., Mountain View.

Christmas Tree Lane Since 1940, Fulton Street (off Embarcadero Road) in Palo Alto has transformed into "Christmas Tree Lane," full of lights and decorations. For safety, the 2021 edition will be a drive-thru, and visitors must remain in their vehicles at all times.
When: Dec. 11-31, 5-11 p.m. each night
Where: 1700 and 1800 blocks of Fulton Street in Palo Alto.


Bethlehem A.D. Bethlehem A.D. is a free, family-friendly experience recreating the town of Bethlehem on the night of the first Christmas, including live animals and a large cast of costumed, community-volunteer actors.
When: Dec. 21-23 6-9:30 p.m.
Where: Rise City Church, 1305 Middlefield Road, Redwood City.

Holiday Markets & Galleries

FabMo Holiday Artisan Showcase An online showcase of creations by local artisans that features unique clothing, fine art, accessories, jewelry, home decor, gifts, toys and holiday items, all crafted at least in part from FabMo's stock of discontinued designer samples that have been rescued and repurposed.
When: Through Dec. 23

Gallery House Paintings, ceramics, statues, jewelry, cards by local artists.
When: Through Jan. 1
Where: 320 S. California Avenue, Palo Alto

The Holiday Show Artist books, ceramics, jewelry, mosaics, paintings, photos and more. Patricia Brandt is the featured artist.
When: Through Jan. 9.
Where: The Main Gallery, 838 Santa Cruz Ave., Suite 1, Menlo Park

Christmas at Our House St. Francis High School hosts a gift boutique with over 40 new and returning artisans selling gourmet foods, vintage and specialty gift items and holiday decor. Also featuring a student art showcase and a special happy hour evening of shopping at the boutique. The event benefits the Saint Francis Fund.
When: Dec. 3, 3-5 p.m. (happy hour 5-8 p.m.) and Dec. 4, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Burns Pavilion, St. Francis High School, 1885 Miramonte Ave., Mountain View.

Paly Winter Glass Sale Palo Alto High School Fiery Arts holds a sale featuring hand-crafted ornaments, candy canes, pumpkins and other items. Proceeds benefit the Paly sculpture program.
When: Dec. 3, 3 - 6 p.m. and Dec. 4, 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto High School, 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto

Palo Alto Art Center Studio Holiday Sale Jewelry, ceramics, paintings, prints and other artwork created by local artists working in the Art Center's studios at the Palo Alto Art Center. Proceeds benefit the artists, studios, and the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation.
When: Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto.

Christmas Market at Allied Arts Guild
Hand-crafted goods such as knitted sweaters, soap and lotion gift packs, belts and bags from local vendors and artists. The event also offers a silent auction featuring themed Christmas trees, activities and treats and a chance to visit Santa.
When: Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Where: 75 Arbor Road, Menlo Park


German Holiday Market German International School of Silicon Valley's annual Germany holiday market is back in person this year, offering an array of traditional German holiday treats, gifts, food and music. Proceeds benefit the school.
When: Dec. 11, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Where: Mountain View Caltrain Station, 600 W. Evelyn Ave., Mountain View