Ways to Celebrate the Holiday Season in the Year of Coronavirus

Photo courtesy of Festival Ballet Theatre

Festival Ballet Theatre will present a shortened, one-hour performance of "The Nutcracker" on an outdoor, open-air stage with no intermission.

‘Tis the season for … outdoor and online holiday celebrations! Take-home feasts! Wearing face masks and socially distancing while acknowledging our most sacred traditions.

In this crazy year of COVID-19, we can still enjoy the arts, culture and food while adhering to restrictions that are meant to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Voice of OC asked its arts and culture contributors to share some highlights from their beats of things to do, see and eat during this special time of the year. Here’s a selection of the best in local visual arts, theater, dance, music, food and culture.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive list — we may have missed something here or there. But we hope it will give you an idea of ways to celebrate — in person and virtually — with those you love.

Happy holidays!

Visual Arts

When the governor announced Nov. 16 that Orange County would be pushed back into the purple tier in the state’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy,” that order essentially shut down museums countywide. They were able to operate interior galleries under the red tier at 25% — now they’re closed indefinitely. Bah humbug.

However, local museums are getting creative and proceeding with outdoor and online events to celebrate the holidays. Here’s a look at a few of the festivities coming up:

Image courtesy of the Bowers Museum

A poster illustrating the original 1940 edition of “Fantasia,” which will screen outdoors at the Bowers on Nov. 28.

“Fantasia”

Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
Outdoor screening at 6 p.m. Nov. 28

The Bowers is hosting a Thanksgiving weekend outdoor screening of “Fantasia.” Of course, this is the groundbreaking, 1940 animated film that features wonderful imagery and timeless classical music. It also contains some racial stereotypes — a Black centaurette named Sunflower polishing the hooves of a white centaurette; and a circle of smiling Asian mushrooms bowing obediently while an “Oriental” tune plays in the background. The movie was edited for theatrical release in 1969, omitting the Sunflower scene, although the Bowers is advertising that this is the 1940 version.

Nevertheless, this classic Disney film is being screened outside in the Key Courtyard. Face coverings and social distancing will be enforced, and chairs will be placed six feet apart. Doors open at 5 p.m. with food from Tangata’s and a gallery pop-up store operating. Tickets are $15 general, $10 for members.

Photo courtesy of the Muckenthaler Cultural Center

Sculptor Bret Price discusses his work, “Godot,” at the ribbon cutting of the Muckenthaler’s outdoor sculpture garden, which is newly completed.

Outdoor Sculpture Garden

Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 1201 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton

The Muck is inviting the public to view and roam around its newly completed outdoor sculpture garden. Visitors may stroll around the center’s 8.5 acres and take a self-guided tour with an interactive, online map, plus learn about the featured artists.

The sculptors include Bret Price, Jimmy Centeno, Sofia Enriquez, Katherine England and Daniel Miller, as well as a collection of eight story poles from Papa New Guinea on loan from the Bowers Museum. Admission is free; daytime hours recommended.

Photo courtesy of Mission San Juan Capistrano/ Val Westover

Capistrano Lights is an annual holiday tradition at the Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Capistrano Lights

Mission San Juan Capistrano, 26801 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano
4-6 p.m., Dec. 3-Jan. 3

Capistrano Lights return to the mission with a nightly tree lighting at 5 p.m. in the ruins of the Great Stone Church. The mission is decked out in lights, and there’s a 30-foot Christmas tree on the grounds. The front courtyard features a 10-foot wreath, which apparently makes for a good holiday-themed photo op. Tickets are $5, $3 for mission members. Face masks and social distancing are required.

Casa Lumina Holiday Walk

415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente
Select nights from 5-7 p.m., Dec. 5-23

Casa Romantica will deck its outdoor gardens with 1,000 twinkling lights celebrating the holidays. Each night will feature letters to Santa, live holiday music, hot chocolate and wine. The cultural center has also relaunched its “Live Virtually at the Casa” and “Virtual Casa Kids” pages. General admission (13 and older) is $7, members are $5, and children 12 and younger are free. Face masks and social distancing are required.

Photo courtesy of Festival of the Arts

Mini-masterpiece replicas have been hand painted by Diane Challis Davy, director of the Pageant of the Masters. This tree is one of 36 that are being auctioned off at South Coast Plaza. Proceeds will benefit local and national nonprofit organizations, such as the Festival of Arts.

Pavilion of Holiday Trees

South Coast Plaza, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, noon-7 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 4

South Coast Plaza is displaying 36 one-of-a-kind trees decorated by local, national and international nonprofit arts organizations. One of the trees features 24 mini-masterpiece replicas hand painted by Pageant of the Masters director Diane Challis Davy. The images on the tree have been selected from the book “Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting.” Proceeds will benefit the pageant. The trees are free to look at, but bidding for them can be done through Dec. 4 at SCParts.givesmart.com.

Skirball Hanukkah Celebration

Streaming on YouTube at 3 p.m. Dec. 13

The Skirball Cultural Center is hosting its annual Hanukkah Festival online this year, due to COVID-19. The Festival of Lights will include a community candle lighting and a lively sing-along. Musical performers will include L.A. klezmer band Mostly Kosher and Israeli psychedelic funk star Gili Yalo. Folks will retell the age-old Hanukkah story, and those watching live can participate in a virtual game for prizes. Free; register here for the Zoom link.

Theater

Some live theater events, some streaming, and some performances being staged live while also being streamed are the order of the day for this year’s holiday stage events. Topping the list are variations of the holiday perennials, including “A Christmas Carol.” Rounding it out are some pop culture holiday shows and a few more not tethered to the season.

“A Christmas Carol”

Jefferson Mays will portray over 50 characters in “A Christmas Carol.”

South Coast Repertory, live stream available from Nov. 28, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021

For 40 years, South Coast Repertory’s annual staging of “A Christmas Carol” was a local tradition for theater lovers. Last year, their Scrooge of 40 years, Hal Landon Jr., retired,  and the theater started work on a new script which they have planned to unveil next year. For this season, SCR is hosting a special filmed version of Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic starring Tony Award winner Jefferson Mays playing not just Ebenezer Scrooge, but more than 50 other roles.

The world premiere live capture is on Nov. 28, after which the show can be accessed via video on demand through Jan. 3, 2021. Total cost for or unlimited viewings within a 24-hour period to watch the 90-minute show, including ticket price, streaming and credit card fees, is $57.50.

Poster art for “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” staring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo.

“A (Virtual) Christmas Vacation with the Griswolds”

Segerstrom Center for the Arts, live stream at 5 p.m. Nov. 28

Presented live via Zoom, Christmas’ favorite couple, Ellen and Clark Griswold, “A (Virtual) Christmas Vacation with the Griswolds,” subtitled “An Evening with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo,” will light up your holidays in a virtual salute to “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” that includes behind-the-scenes secrets of the making of a blockbuster movie franchise. Chase) and D’Angelo lead audiences through this live event as they share fan-favorite clips from the movie, reveal their favorite memories from the making of the “Vacation” franchise and answer your questions in a live audience Q&A.

“The Charles Phoenix Holiday Jubilee”

Curtis Theatre, live stream at 6 p.m. Nov. 28

The Curtis Theatre is live-streaming “Charles Phoenix’s Holiday Jubilee” on YouTube, a  show which has been staged at the 199-seat Brea venue. Designed to get you into the holiday mood, the show celebrates American life and the lifestyle of the mid-20th century. Comedian Phoenix injects the classic living room slide-show with an eye for the odd details of kitschy holiday traditions past, present and future. He also shares holiday “test kitchen” recipes and food crafting ideas, and conducts a question-and-answer session with audiences watching from home. Tickets are $25 general admission (plus a $3.16 fee), $40 VIP (plus a $4.06 fee).

Poster art for “Hetty Feather.”

“Hetty Feather,” Cyber Chat

Chance Theater, live stream at 8 p.m. Dec. 4.

Chance Theater has been offering a series of live chats about theater.  Like structured like an online book club, the theater announces a show, encourages their audience to watch it online on their own time, then sets a date and time to come together to share your experiences.  For December, the show on deck is “Hetty Feather,” an Olivier Award-nominee based on the best-selling novel by Jacqueline Wilson. The family-oriented new musical, which is infused with live music and daring aerial feats, can be accessed via BroadwayHD. Sign up for the online chat at the Chance Theater website.

Poster art for “Disenchanted.”

“Disenchanted!”

Laguna Playhouse, available for online viewing between noon on Dec. 18, through 10 p.m. on Dec. 20

Laguna Playhouse delivers a firsthand look at the high school edition of the new off-Broadway musical comedy that chucks poisoned apples and glass slippers in favor of a hip, contemporary, pop-culture-infused take on the great storybook heroines of classic fairy tales. Snow White and a posse of princesses are disenchanted with how they’ve been portrayed lately, so they toss their tiaras and charge forward to set the record straight. A video link will be emailed to viewers 24 hours prior to the viewing period start. 

Dance

Sugar Plum Fairies are still leaping this holiday season. Those looking to keep the holiday “The Nutcracker” tradition, no matter the form, will find limited outdoor engagements as well as live-streaming and pre-recorded presentations of the Christmas classic.

“Nutcracker: Short & Sweet”

Festival Ballet Theatre at the Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr, Irvine
10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Dec, 19, 20, 22 and 23

Treat the family to a magical, bite-sized performance of “The Nutcracker” by Festival Ballet Theatre at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. This shortened, one-hour performance, will be performed on an outdoor open-air stage with no intermission. Dancers will tell the full story of Clara and her journey to the Land of Sweets in a tent adjacent to the Barclay. Audience members will be seated in groups of no more than five people with proper physical distancing between parties. Cost per group: $200 for center, $175 for side, $150 for rear.

Nutcracker Tea Party

Julianne and George Argyros Plaza, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13

Guests are invited for tea, champagne and light refreshments at Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Julianne and George Argyros Plaza where they will enjoy holiday performances and festivities. Events include excerpts from ‘The Nutcracker” ballet featuring ABT Gillespie School upper-level dancers, live music from a chamber ensemble, and a display of costumes from the American Ballet Production of “The Nutcracker.” COVID-19 precautions, including wearing a mask will be adhered to for the safety of the performers and the guests. Audiences are encouraged to dress their best — including tutus and tiaras!  Cost: $700 for a table for four; $1,200 for a table for eight.

Nutcracker Christmas Tree Lighting

Anaheim Ballet, 7 p.m. Dec. 5

Dancers from the Anaheim Ballet will perform three holiday-themed dances for the annual “Nutcracker Christmas Tree Lighting.” Moving off the streets in downtown Anaheim to an online viewing experience, this 30-minute presentation will feature dance and music performances as well as the lighting of the tree. Cost: Free.

Music

Usually, this is the time of year when classical music fans are gearing up for sing-along Messiahs and a proliferation of holiday pops concerts. These are not normal times, though, and as we head into the first holiday season of the COVID era, we’re going to have to do what we’ve been doing since March: adapt. While we’re waiting for our regularly scheduled programming to return, you can find a little musical accompaniment for your eggnog here.

Robert Istad, conductor of the Pacific Chorale

“Tis The Season”

Pacific Chorale, live stream at 5 p.m. Dec. 3

The Pacific Chorale presents its traditional assemblage of holiday favorites, this year in virtual format. “Tis The Season” is a free event (tickets available at the chorale’s website, pacificchorale.org), and features a good mix of solo and choral selections. Robert Istad, the chorale’s conductor and artistic director, reliably works hard to make sure the holiday programming is both traditional and unpredictable.

The Darden Sisters will perform at The Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton.

Darden Sisters

Muckenthaler Cultural Center, 201 W. Malvern Ave, Fullerton
7 p.m. Dec. 18

At the Muckenthaler Cultural Center, you’ll find an actual, non-virtual, live and in-person event, Fullerton’s own Darden Sisters presenting a Drive-in Christmas Concert. The Americana/Folk group lends its pristine harmonies to a selection of traditional favorites for the third year running. Tickets are $30 per car.

Photo courtesy of PSOC

Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough, piano

Philharmonic Society of Orange County, virtual performance, streaming at 7 p.m. Dec. 11

And if holiday music just isn’t your thing, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County will be streaming a virtual recital by celebrated pianist Stephen Hough. Hough has dominated the world’s concert halls for years. Here he brings a program of Liszt (Funérailles, Mephisto Waltz) and Schumann (Fantasie in C major). Should be thrilling.

Food

Food is at the center of how most people celebrate the holidays. Some traditions include making lavish feasts. Some include going out. This year, all of those traditions will have to be reimagined. Here are a few options to think as you and your family/COVID bubble develop new traditions this season.

“Deck the Halls” Virtual Holiday Party

Bracken’s, 6 p.m. Dec. 3

Bracken’s Kitchen, a nonprofit that has served over 1.3 million meals to those facing food insecurity, has not canceled its second annual “Deck the Halls” party. This year’s celebration is scheduled for Dec. 3 at 6 p.m., and includes tree decorating, a silent auction, creative pumpkin carvings, a cooking challenge and special guests. OC residents purchasing a deluxe ticket will also view an early culinary demonstration of their delivered gourmet meal.

Take Home Options

  • Turkey connoisseurs can focus on the poultry, since Costa Mesa’s Fork and Knife is offering everything but the bird to-go! Chef Jonathan Blackford (formerly of A Restaurant and CdM) is ready for your starters, sides, and sweet finales, so place your orders ASAP.
  • Serving up to four, The RANCH’s $345 spread offers a perfectly brined and uncooked Mary’s Organic free-range bird to pop in the oven, while your pre-cooked sides (including Grandma’s green bean & mushroom casserole and turkey sausage stuffing) have reheating instructions. Order pickup begins Monday Nov. 23 in Anaheim.
  • Photo courtesy Georgia's Restaurant

    Everything but the turkey from Georgia’s in Anaheim (and Long Beach).

    Available at sister restaurants Bistango (Irvine) and Bayside (Newport) for the first time: Thanksgiving multi-course to-go. I’m eyeing the romanesco broccoflower and butterscotch budino from Bayside or cranberry linzer tart and butternut squash salad with my turkey at Bistango.

  • San Clemente’s VINE leaves the entree up to you, but is ready in all other dining aspects with its Thanksgiving Meal in a Box for $149 that feeds six. Heirloom vegetables, sausage and kale stuffing, and forest mushroom gravy are divine — but the two bottles of vino plus bonus $20 promo card close the deal.  
  • Alternatives to turkey are the theme at Georgia’s in Anaheim (and Long Beach, for those closer) with BBQ St. Louis ribs, jambalaya and signature fried chicken. Get your à la carte ordering on, and save room for collard greens and Nana Gretchen’s corn bread.
  • The “Feast for Four” ($159) from Old Brea Chop House is a comprehensive menu that begins with free-range turkey and ends with cinnamon cream pumpkin pie. Garlic rolls, roasted pear salad and seven (yes, seven) sides are also included. Cutoff for ordering is Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Dine Out Options, If You Dare

  • Offering a three-course prix fixe for $80, Las Brisas in Laguna Beach is upping the ante with entree options such as slow-roasted salmon, lamb chops with chipotle-agave glazed carrots, and chile-rubbed turkey. Its recent remodel is a refreshing update for this waterfront mainstay.
  • Photo courtesy Cafe Sevilla

    Outdoor patio at Costa Mesa’s Cafe Sevilla.

    Abundant patio dining and a touchless mobile pay option make Cafe Sevilla a haven when selecting a comfortable destination. Costa Mesa seating begins at 11 a.m. for your choice of full menu or $50 Thanksgiving with a Spanish twist. P.S.: Sip your dessert via a Bourbon Peach Pie cocktail.

  • Diners familiar with Bello by Sandro Nardone will want to celebrate dinner in Newport to try some of the chef’s favorite dishes from his mom mixed with classic fare. $60 lunch and dinner seating times are available for four courses including arrosto di maiale (roasted pork loin), squash risotto, and persimmon salad. 
  • Laguna Niguel locals should book their table at Hendrix Restaurant & Bar for their $65 feast. Roasted turkey, Greater Omaha prime rib and day boat scallops are a few of the savory courses; a kid’s option is also available.

Culture

The restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic don’t have to affect the way we celebrate our favorite holidays this year. While the availability of light shows or street fairs may be limited or even non-existent, true holiday spirit can be found in the people we love and the traditions we keep. That being said, here are a couple events to look out for as you prep the family for the last of 2020’s socially-distanced celebrations.

Hanukkah Klezmer Concert

Orange County’s Jewish Federation & Family Services, 7 p.m. Dec. 13

The concert, hosted by Orange County’s Jewish Federation & Family Services, invites the musical talents of Yale Strom & Hot Pstromi to perform on the fourth night of Hanukkah. Strom is known for composing his own New Jewish music that’s infused with klezmer, jazz, Roma, classical and other sounds that has carried the tradition of writing original Jewish music, with Yiddish lyrics, touching on humanitarian and social issues. 

The Asian Garden Mall in Westminster

Lunar New Year

Asian Garden Mall, 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
Jan. 25 – 27, 2021

While it’s still a couple months away, you may want to start gearing up for Lunar New Year by visiting the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster. Little Saigon’s residents flock there every year to buy their red envelopes, firecrackers and much more. Lunar New Year is celebrated by Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, whose many Lunar New Year traditions can be found at Orange County’s well-known Vietnamese hub. While the Vietnamese community will likely have to endure a contactless celebration this year, holiday supplies may still be purchased at this mall. Being in the building itself is like a nostalgic reminder that the new year is still arriving and families can still celebrate together at home.

Did You Know…?

  • The fourth Thursday in November is celebrated by some as a National Day of Mourning. This holiday began half a century ago by Native Americans in New England as a way to consider Thanksgiving from a different perspective. In protest of the American holiday, the annual tradition usually involves Native Americans and allies gathering at Cole’s Hill above Plymouth Rock. Individuals can just as easily reflect on this day from home this year instead. Whether it’s watching a documentary or choosing to abstain from traditional Thanksgiving activities, you may want to make time to remember and honor this important yet often forgotten group of people in American history.
  • Kwanzaa, a celebration of African American culture, was created by Maulana Karenga, a professor at Cal State Long Beach, and first celebrated in 1966 in response to the Watts riots. In 2019 in his annual message about the holiday, Karenga said it is a time of serious and sustained remembrance, reflection and recommitment. And thus, it calls on us to sit down and to meditate deeply on the awesome meaning and responsibility of being African in our community, society and the world.This year, Kwanzaa is celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.