‘Tis the season to be social!

After nearly two years of lockdown, isolation, social distancing and online-only performances, this holiday season appears to be a return to (nearly) pre-pandemic normalcy. Orange County arts and cultural institutions are once again opening their doors and outdoor spaces, inviting visitors and supporters to celebrate the holidays in communal fashion.

(Remember to bring a mask, though, just in case! And proof of vaccination may be required at some venues. Check before you go.)

Here’s a look at some of the best O.C. holiday offerings in the areas of culture, visual arts, theater, dance, music and food, brought to you by Voice of OC’s talented arts and culture writers.

Note: This is not an encyclopedic list. If your favorite arts or cultural institution is not included here, visit the organization’s website.

Happy holidays!

Culture

The holidays are a time for gathering, celebrating different cultures and relaxing with loved ones and luckily this year, Orange County has a wider array of in-person activities and events for families and friends to attend in comparison to last year. Enjoy various cultural performances and activities across O.C., and even partake in rare activities for sunny Southern California which include ice skating and basking in snowfall. – Crystal Henriquez

Segerstrom’s 5th Annual Holidays Around the World

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Dec. 4 and Dec. 11
Cost: Free, but tickets are required for entry
Contact: scfta.org

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts brings back its beloved Holidays Around the World festival this year, where you can catch live performances by local dance and musical groups that showcase special holiday traditions from different areas of the world. Watch groups like the Scandia Dancers of Southern California and more on stage in the Julianne and George Argyros Plaza. 

The rest of the plaza will transform to a fun and festive winter wonderland perfect for kids and families. There’s also the option to create your own seasonal crafts and although it may be Southern California, no true holiday season is complete without snow, so don’t miss the snowfall that occurs in the plaza either!

Although outside food preparations and alcohol are not permitted at the event, beverages will be available to purchase from George’s Cafe onsite. Guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs for the event as these will not be provided, however tables will not be allowed.

If you have the chance, walk on over to Town Center Park (adjacent to The Westin South Coast Plaza) and take a look at the 90-foot Christmas tree decorated with over 94,000 lights. It’s a sight you don’t want to miss.

The Segerstrom Center for the Arts transforms into a true winter wonderland with snowfall and its 90 foot Christmas tree which can be enjoyed at their Holidays Around The World festival. Credit: CRYSTAL HENRIQUEZ, Voice of OC

Santa Ana Winter Village

Where: Civic Center Plaza, 600 W. Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana
When: Dec. 8 through Jan. 2, 2022
Cost: Admission to the village is free, however some activities such as ice skating, food trucks and merchandise vendors require separate costs.
Contact: santa-ana.org/events/santa-ana-winter-village; to reserve ice skating tickets, visit santaanawintervillage.simpletix.com/.

The City of Santa Ana is hosting a month-long holiday extravaganza beginning on Dec. 8, perfect to enjoy with the family. The city’s first winter village is coming to life right next to Santa Ana City Hall at the Civic Center Plaza with live entertainment, holiday shopping, merchandise from specialty vendors, local community groups, cuisine from local food trucks and a world-class outdoor skating rink. Visitors will be able to rent skates and ice skate freely in a winter wonderland right in the heart of sunny Orange County. No cost activities include story time with Mrs. Claus, meeting Santa and live entertainment.

The village’s main opening event and tree lighting ceremony will take place on Thursday, Dec. 9, in which the mayor, city councilmembers and other VIP guests will be in attendance. The Santa Ana Winter Village is part of the city’s Revive Santa Ana pandemic recovery initiative, which is federally funded by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The Winter Village will provide a fun, healthy outdoor activity that our community greatly deserves after the past two years,” Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said.

Winter Holidays Around the Globe Festival

Where: Bowers Museum, 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana
When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 19
Cost: Free
Contact: bowers.org

Celebrate cultural holidays such as Las Posadas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa at Bowers Museum this year at its worldly family-friendly festival. Stop by the museum’s key courtyard on Dec. 19 and enjoy a full day of fun with complimentary face painting, art projects, live performances and a special holiday treat. The festival is a great way to celebrate your own respective holiday as well as learn the traditions of your neighbors’ cultural holidays.

The festival is free to attend but will also be recorded and available to view online on Facebook and YouTube one week after the event takes place. 

Forget that you’re in Southern California and enjoy outdoor ice skating at the City of Santa Ana’s Winter Village. Credit: Photo Courtesy of Rocket Launch PR.

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa Festivities at Pretend City 

Where: Pretend City, 29 Hubble Irvine, CA 92618
When: Hanukkah: Nov. 28 through Dec. 5; Kwanzaa: Dec. 26-31
Cost: Holiday activities are included with museum admission
Contact: pretendcity.org/event/

Gather the kids and revel in Hanukkah and Kwanzaa festivities at Pretend City Museum for days full of holiday traditions, arts and games. For Hanukkah, kids can enjoy special story times in which they’ll learn about the holiday’s meaning and traditions along with the help of fun games and scavenger hunts. On other days, kids can learn all about popular Hanukkah songs that discuss dreidels, latkes and the symbolic menorah. 

For Kwanzaa, kids will practice coming together to help others which is the ultimate meaning of the holiday. Through story times and art studio sessions, children can learn more about symbols like the Kinara and other traditions of Kwanzaa. These festivities are not only fun for kids, but educational for the whole family to learn about different cultures around the world.

Visual Arts

During this whole crazy, unpredictable pandemic, one thing has actually been certain: Museums are safer than any other public indoor environment. That’s according to a study released earlier this year by the Berlin Institute of Technology. The study determined that the risk of COVID-19 transmission is far lower in museums and theaters than in offices, supermarkets, restaurants or on public transportation.

Those who work in museums and galleries already know that art is safe to look at in this capricious time of COVID. The ventilating and HVAC systems required in such places are already far superior to environments such as grocery stores and indoor malls.

So, Orange County art institutions are returning this season to present holiday festivities that look a lot like they did in 2019. Many of the events are actually outdoors, providing an even safer environment. Here’s an assortment of holiday activities at local art institutions, keeping geographic and cultural diversity in mind. – Richard Chang

Muzeo Express

Where: Muzeo, 241 S. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim
When: Nov. 27-Jan. 23
Cost: $10 adults, $8 for children and seniors, $7 for Anaheim residents
Contact: (714) 765-6450 or muzeo.org

The Muzeo Express at Muzeo in Anaheim showcases model trains and dioramas that aim to bring the spirit of the holidays to life. Image courtesy of Muzeo.

A downtown Anaheim holiday tradition returns to Muzeo’s Main Gallery. The “Muzeo Express” will showcase model train dioramas that aim to bring the spirit of the holidays to life. More than a dozen trains and settings will evoke favorites such as Thomas the Train and Disney’s Radiator Springs, as well as traditional holiday scenes such as Polar Express and the HO scale for model trains. The trains, models and dioramas will come courtesy of the Train Collector’s Association and the Toy Train Operating Society.

On Dec. 4 and 11, Muzeo will host “A Night on the Polar Express,” featuring a reading from the children’s book and a screening of “The Polar Express” animated film ($15 for children). Also, a silent film series featuring steam trains and lectures will start at 6 p.m. Dec. 2, 9 and 16.

Three New Holiday Exhibitions at the Hilbert

Where: Hilbert Museum of California Art, 167 N. Atchison St., Orange
When: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; through Jan. 15
Cost: Free
Contact: (714) 516-5880 or hilbertmuseum.com

The Hilbert Museum of California Art has just opened three new, holiday-themed exhibitions. “Capio Lumen/Capture the Light: Michael Johnson’s Digital Illuminated Manuscripts” features Orange resident Johnson’s finely crafted manuscript pages that look as if they were painted by hand in 15th century France. (They’re actually created digitally.)

“A Merry Little Christmas: Holiday Images from the Hilbert Collection” focuses on the original Christmas card designs by artist/illustrators such as Phil Dike, Susan Earle, Charlotte J. Sternberg and Richmond Kelsey.

Finally, “The Genius of Chuck Jones” features 20 pieces by Jones or artists working on shows he directed, including original drawings and cels of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner, as well as an original drawing and a cel from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which Jones produced and directed. Through May 7.

31st Annual Winter Fantasy

Where: 935 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 19; also open on Black Friday, Nov. 26
Cost: $10 adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for children 6-12 years old
Contact: (949) 494-3030 or sawdustsartfestival.org

The Sawdust Art Festival is hosting its 31st annual Winter Fantasy show, offering handcrafted items by 150 local and international artists. Three stages are presenting live music and entertainment daily, Santa will be there for photos, and there will be marionette puppet shows, a petting zoo, glassblowing and other art demonstrations. After last year’s outdoor marketplace experiment, this is a return to the Winter Fantasy of old.

Capistrano Lights Returns

Where: Mission San Juan Capistrano, 26801 Ortega Highway, San Juan Capistrano
When: Dec. 4, 5, 10-12, 17-19, 21-23, 26, 28-30
Cost: $19 adults, $17 seniors, $14 for children 5-11, and free for children 4 and younger
Contact: (949) 234-1300 or missionsjc.com

Reviving an annual tradition, the grounds of Mission San Juan Capistrano will be transformed with lights, community-designed Christmas trees, a large-scale nativity scene in the ruins of the Great Stone church, Dickens-era carolers and a nightly 30-foot tree lighting and music at 5 p.m. Children’s activities include Selfies with Santa, crafts, vendors and a search for Sullivan the Elf in “Elf on a Mission.” The galleries will remain open until 5:45 p.m. nightly.

Casa Romantica

Where: 415 Avenida Granada, San Clemente
When: Select nights from Dec. 1-22, 5-7 p.m. nightly
Cost: $12 for general admission; children 12 and younger and active military with ID free
Contact: (949) 494-2139 or casaromantica.org

Casa Romantica is transforming into a festively decorated winter wonderland in December. The grounds will be illuminated with a Casa Lumina Holiday Walk, and local artists will perform live music or entertainment each night. Holiday activities will include a Santa letter station, other crafts, hot cocoa, cookies, Santa visits, and other holiday celebrations including a menorah lighting, Torah reading and dreidel games on Dec. 3; a Bodhi Day on Dec. 6; and a Kwanzaa celebration on Dec. 22.

Theater

“A Christmas Carol” is the classic go-to show to see during the holidays, and South Coast Repertory has been producing a fine version of this show annually for over 40 years. But if you are looking to make a change and don’t want to see the same old thing, there are plenty of options at other theaters across the county. – Eric Marchese

‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’

When: Nov. 19 through Dec. 23
Where: Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Unit B, Fullerton
Cost: $30 ($15 kids age 5 through 14)
Contact: 714-526-7070, mavericktheater.com

Maverick’s Brian Newell brings back his annual holiday show for the 15th time. Newell and Nick McGee adapted the classically schlocky 1964 kiddie film for the stage, producing it in 2006. Little did anyone realize the show would take on a life of its own as a Maverick perennial. Martians landing at the North Pole, abducting Santa Claus and urging him to create Christmas on Mars is just the beginning. Maverick’s lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek version plays up the film’s camp appeal, with plenty of comedic improvisation and audience interaction. (Note: The show is suitable for all ages but not intended for children under age 5.)

When Maverick Theater’s Brian Newell and company cooked up a stage version of the kooky 1964 kiddie flick “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” in 2006, little did they dream it would become an audience holiday favorite. It’s back for the 15th time. Credit: Photo courtesy of Brian Newell/Maverick Theater

‘The Magic of Christmas: A Season of Light’

When: Dec. 10-19
Where: La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada
Cost: $15-$52
Contact: 714-994-6310, lamiradatheatre.com

Each year, the Young Americans’ holiday extravaganza “The Magic of Christmas” makes a two-weekend stop at the La Mirada Theatre. This year’s show, “A Season of Light,” takes a “Christmas Carol” approach in that it features favorite scenes from shows past, new musical numbers from holidays present, and takes a magical peek at Christmas shows yet to come.

In addition to a cast of more than 300 singer-dancers (many of whom are also musicians), hundreds of costumes and sets, the show uses state-of-the-art LED technology whose changes in lighting, colors and background scenery are able to instantly transport audiences from Dickensian London to the North Pole, from Toyland to a “Holiday Inn”-style winter ski resort. Designed for all ages, the show parades Santas, reindeer, snowmen, penguins and other holiday-time figures across the stage. The heart of every Young Americans show, though, are its professionally precise musical numbers – a playlist that includes traditional carols, classic and modern Christmas pop songs and sublime holiday choral music delivered by a sizable – and impressive – vocal chorus. 

This year’s edition of “The Magic of Christmas,” the Young Americans’ annual holiday extravaganza, is subtitled “A Season of Light,” offering a mixture of favorite scenes from past versions along with some new musical numbers. Credit: Photo courtesy of La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts/Cheyenne Boivin Photographe

‘Carpenter’s Christmas’/ ‘Sister’s Christmas Catechism’/ ‘Rita Rudner’s New Year’s Eve’

When: Dec. 13-31
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
Cost: $46-$131
Contact: 949-497-2787, lagunaplayhouse.com

Laguna Playhouse celebrates the holidays with a triple-header that rings in Christmas with easy listening rock, gently ribs the Catholicism’s Christmas rites, and literally “pokes” fun at New Year’s Eve á la the pandemic courtesy the wickedly sharp observations of Rita Rudner.

Rita Rudner helps ring in New Year’s Eve at Laguna Playhouse again. This year, she’s literally poking fun at the crazy, pandemic-gripped world in “Rita Rudner’s Happy Vaccinated New Year’s Eve!” Credit: Photo courtesy of Rita Rudner/Laguna Playhouse

First up is “Merry Christmas, Darling: Carpenter’s Christmas,” which plays Dec. 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 15 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. The show, featuring vocalist Michelle Berting Brett and a seven-piece band, resurrects the Christmas repertoire of Karen and Richard Carpenter and the good feelings their songs generate.

Every theater fan knows not only “Late Night Catechism” but the whole family of “Catechism” comedies, graced by the presence of that all-seeing, all-knowing, sharp-tongued nun, “Sister.” So “Sister’s Christmas Catechism” will get you laughing silly in the days leading up to Christmas. It’s two nights only: Dec. 20 and 21 at 7:30 p.m.

Finally, Laguna Playhouse patrons have grown accustomed to spending New Year’s Eve with witty comedienne Rita Rudner. This time around, though, her wry witticisms are being dispensed through the end of a hypodermic loaded with the COVID vaccine. “Rita Rudner’s Happy Vaccinated New Year’s Eve!” is one night only (Dec. 31) and starts at 7 p.m. 

Dance

No holiday dance is more classic than “The Nutcracker,” but Orange County’s 2021 holiday dance scene includes all that and more. American Ballet Theatre’s annual residence resumes at Segerstrom Center for the Arts as audiences travel to the Land of Sweets, while Musco Center for the Arts and Irvine Barclay Theatre will be our tour guides to Christmastime in Mexico and Ireland, respectively. And something for kids too, a narrated “Nutcracker” by Festival Ballet Theatre. No matter where you journey, this year’s performances will be particularly sweet as dance patrons gather together to celebrate the joyous season with stage performances that were either canceled or moved online last year. – Kaitlin Wright 

‘Christmas from a Celtic Table’

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Dr., Irvine
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 29
Cost: Starting at $30
Contact: 949-854-4646, thebarclay.org

Experience Christmas in Ireland right here in Orange County. Kerry Irish Productions, as seen on PBS with “An Irish Christmas,” weaves music, dance, modern Irish poetry and classic short stories into a festive celebration of an international holiday. See an award-winning cast of traditional Irish dancers led by special guest and world champion Tyler Schwartz who performed in “Magic of the Dance,” “Gaelforce Dance”  and “Celtic Fyre.”

Narrated Nutcracker for Children & Families

Where: Huntington Beach Central Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach
When: Various times, Dec. 4-5
Cost: $10
Contact: festivalballet.org

Introduce young children to classical ballet and music with Festival Ballet Theatre’s 45-minute, narrated rendition of “The Nutcracker.” This specially-designed presentation of the full-length classic engages the youngest audience with ballerinas and storytime. Celebrate the season with Clara, her Nutcracker, the Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy at the Huntington Beach Central Library. 

Festival Ballet Theatre presents a shorter, kid-friendly version of “The Nutcracker” with performances at the Huntington Beach Central Library. Credit: Photo courtesy of Festival Ballet Theatre

American Ballet Theatres ‘The Nutcracker’

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
When: Various times, Dec. 10-12 and Dec. 15-19
Cost: Starting at $30
Contact: 714-556-2787, scfta.org

More than 100 performers take to the Segerstrom Center stage to perform this holiday ballet staple. This year’s principal casting will include Hee Seo as Clara, the Princess, and Cory Stearns as the Nutcracker Prince on opening night. The cast also includes Orange County students from the Segerstrom Center’s ABT William J. Gillespie School. Kids and adults alike will be enchanted by magical toy soldiers, mischievous mice, sparkling snowflakes, and a glittering Christmas tree as Tchaikovsky’s iconic score carries viewers through the classical ballet storytelling.  

The Snowflakes in American Ballet Theatre’s “The Nutcracker.” Credit: Photo courtesy of ABT/Gene Schiavone

‘Nochebuena: Christmas Eve in Mexico’

Where: Musco Center for the Arts, 415 N. Glassell St., Orange
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 12
Cost: Starting at $33
Contact: 714-997-6812, muscocenter.org

Two of L.A.’s most acclaimed performance ensembles, Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles and Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar come to Musco Center for the Arts using music and dance to show the traditions and customs celebrated in Mexico during the Christmas season. Ballet Folklórico de Los Ángeles has worked with Grammy Award-winning Lila Downs, Pepe Aguilar, and Pixar, in celebration of the animated film “Coco.”  In “Nochebuena” a blend of music and dance from across the diverse regions of Mexico are combined in a show that celebrates a country where Christmas is not just one day but an entire season. 

In Nochebuena: Christmas Eve in Mexico, a blend of music and dance from across the diverse regions of Mexico are brought together in a single exciting night of festive family fun. Credit: Photo courtesy of Musco Center for the Arts

Music

Last year, large-scale Christmas-themed classical music concerts weren’t possible, and we had to make do with Zoom to get our not-quite-live singalong fix. This year looks better, with a tempting choice of shows at venues large and small. Here are three of the best. – Paul Hodgins

‘Messiah’

When: Dec. 5 at 3 p.m.
Where: Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $49 and up
Contact: 714-755-5799, pacificsymphony.org

When it comes to Christmas musical traditions, there’s no substitute for Handel’s “Messiah.” Pacific Symphony does it up grandly, teaming with Pacific Chorale and a host of talented soloists. Conductor Robert Moody leads soprano Mary Wilson, countertenor Logan Tanner, tenor Taylor Stayton, baritone Theo Hoffman, Pacific Chorale (Robert Istad, artistic director) and Pacific Symphony.

Canadian Brass

When: Dec. 10 at 8 p.m.
Where: Renée & Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 615 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa
Cost: $25 and up
Contact: 949-553-2422, philharmonicsociety.org

This year, why not get a little brassy for the holidays? The Philharmonic Society is presenting the internationally renowned, award-winning Canadian Brass, and they’ll be performing seasonal favorites, holiday classics, and brass standards in a program that’s sure to include their quirky brand of humor. The program includes Christmas classics such as “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain,”  “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Carol of the Bells,” and salutes to Glenn Miller and Vince Guaraldi (the composer of the beloved Charlie Brown Christmas songs). You’ll even hear something called “The Canuckracker.”

Deck the Hall at Cal State Fullerton!

When: Dec 11 at 3 and 8 p.m., Dec. 12 at 3 p.m.
Where: Meng Concert Hall, Cal State Fullerton, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton
Cost: $25-$30
Contact: 657-278-3371, calendar.fullerton.edu

Join California State University’s talented conductors and musicians as they ring in the holidays. The line-up includes the University Symphony Orchestra, University Singers, University Wind Symphony, CSUF Concert Choir, Titan Voices and Singing Titans. This richly varied concert includes carols, holiday favorites, and familiar sing-alongs. 

Food

The end-of-year holidays mean different things depending on who you ask. In Orange County, they translate to handmade tamales, holiday meals with harbor views and spicy sauces paired with beer. – Anne Marie Panoringan

SoCal Hot Sauce Fest

When: Nov. 28. Noon to 5 p.m.
Where: Radiant Beer Co, 1566 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim
Cost: Free with registration

Presented by Infinity Sauces, over a dozen sauce makers including Beto’s, Old Boney Mountain, Inferno Farms and more are bringing the heat to this third annual celebration. A family-friendly and pet-friendly experience, visitors are encouraged to linger thanks to dining options and lively tunes. Radiant’s lengthy tap list featuring beer slushies and soft serve beer (you read that right) will keep hopheads hydrated all afternoon.

The So Cal Hot Sauce Festival is Sunday, November 28. Credit: Photo courtesy of John Kessler

Holiday Dinner and Brunch Cruises

When: Dec. 15, 24 and 25
Where: City Cruises, 2431 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach
Cost: From $85.97, plus $15 parking

Out-of-town relatives requesting time on the water can feast while being entertained on their choice of harbor tour. Selections include the popular Parade of Lights dinner cruise, Christmas Eve brunch or dinner and Christmas Day brunch or dinner. Guests can decide what and how much they want to indulge thanks to buffet service, including carving stations and vegetarian options (upon request). Performers and DJs keep the mood upbeat on the decked out, multi-level boats. For a change of scenery, book the Marina del Rey port.

Sail this holiday season with City Cruises. Credit: Photo courtesy of City Cruises

Christmas Tamales from Taco Maria

When: Pick-ups during Christmas week. Exact pickup dates/times TBD
Where: Taco Maria, 3313 Hyland Ave., C-21, Costa Mesa
Cost: From $48

If scoring a reservation at one of Costa Mesa’s Michelin-starred dining rooms is tough, try the holiday tamale route. The restaurant hasn’t announced the Christmas batch, however, I suspect Taco Maria will offer holiday-themed flavors. (For Thanksgiving, one could order turkey and mushroom stuffing.) The tamales are enveloped in heirloom yellow corn masa and are available by the half-dozen with a duo of finishing sauces via online ordering. They’re completely cooked and frozen; provided thawing and reheating instructions eliminate the guesswork for your next potluck. Subscribe to restaurant emails or follow closely on social media in December for the final round of handmade treats because once they’re sold out, that’s it.

Christmas tamales from Taco Maria. Credit: Photo courtesy of Taco Maria

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