From left: Kaitlyn Walker; Jann Whaley; dancer Nozomi Iijima by Amitava Sarkar; Mark Kitaoka; Mike McCormick

Every December, arts organizations take a break from their regularly scheduled programming to bring audiences a bit of the holiday spirit. Christmas productions aren’t just audience favorites; they’re often essential to an arts organization’s bottom line, with box office receipts supporting more artistically ambitious work. Would the Alley have the budget to stage Jon Robin Baitz’s critically acclaimed Other Desert Cities if it weren’t for their holiday production of A Christmas Carol? Does the Houston Ballet’s world premiere of Stanton Welch’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra owe its life to The Nutcracker? Familiar though these holiday productions may be, they wouldn’t sell tickets year after year if they didn’t have enduring artistic value. With that preface, Houstonia presents our definitive guide to the holiday arts season.

From classical favorites to department store jingles, nothing sets the mood for the holidays like a little music. Once again, the Houston Symphony has pulled out all the stops, starting with their annual performance of Handel’s Messiah, featuring the Houston Symphony Chorus (Dec 19–22). For the kids, the Symphony is also hosting a concert of holiday favorites, Very Merry Pops (Dec 13–15) and a musical retelling of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Dec 14). If your taste runs more to the Baroque, Mercury is presenting an evening of works by 17th century French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, conducted by Antoine Plante and sung by the Bach Choir Houston (Dec 14). 

Perhaps no work is more associated with the holiday season than Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, the staple of every American ballet company. Houston Ballet’s version features choreography by former artistic director Ben Stevenson and sets by Desmond Heeley (Thru Dec 29). This year, The Nutcracker will be joined on Houston stages by a variety of musicals. New to the city is the Broadway hit Elf: The Musical, based on the 2003 Will Ferrell film and brought to town by Theatre Under the Stars (Dec 6–22). (If you prefer the original film, you can attend the Alamo Drafthouse’s Elf Quote-Along at the Orange Show on Dec 6.) Main Street Theater’s musical A Civil War Christmas (Nov 29–Dec 22) is set in December 1864 and features characters ranging from President Lincoln to a runaway slave. For its part, Stages Repertory Theatre is premiering a new installment of its beloved Trailer Park series, The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical (Thru Dec 29), which is pretty much self-explanatory. 

At the Alley Theatre, two plays have anchored the holiday season for as long as we can remember—A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas (Thru Dec 26), based on Charles Dickens’s classic tale, and The Santaland Diaries (Dec 1–31), a one-man play adapted from humorist David Sedaris’s ribald essay about working as a Christmas elf at Macy’s. Over at Main Street Theater, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (Thru Dec 21) tells the story of a group of unruly children who decide to crash their church’s Christmas show. And if all those Christmas productions begin to wear you out, don’t worry: 2014 is right around the corner, and it’s a full year until the next Christmas season.

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