It's reassuring to know that during the holiday season, Baltimore loses none of the eccentric charm for which the city has become known.
Sure, there are plenty of traditional offerings. But the season also offers an ugly sweater run at Rash Field, a holiday burlesque featuring tinsel tassels, and Baltimore native and self-proclaimed filth elder John Waters' annual show spoofing the season.
Even the time-honored holiday classics can come with a twist. Dance fans, for instance, can choose from at least five dueling productions of "The Nutcracker" ballet in Baltimore jammed into three holiday weekends. Sometimes, you just feel like a "Nut."
Here's a rundown of some of the best holiday events the area has to offer:
At least four traditional and spectacle-filled "Nutcrackers" will jete into Baltimore this season.
That's not even counting the world premiere of "Swingin' Nutcracker," in which jazz composer Paul Murtha riffs on Duke Ellington's dazzling reimagination of Tchaikovsky's shimmering score. This also features the fancy footwork of the Washington-based dance troupe Step Afrika.
Why not catch them all? They are, in chronological order:
- Ballet Theatre of Maryland on Saturday-Sunday at Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave., $21-$54, balletmaryland.org
- Swingin' Nutcracker a la Ellington Featuring Step Afrika! on Dec. 9-11 at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. (also Dec. 8 at the Strathmore in Bethesda), $12.50-$60, bsomusic.org
- The Baltimore Ballet on Dec. 10-11 at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, $15-$30, baltimoreballet.com
- The Baltimore School for the Arts* on Dec. 9-10 and 16-17 at the school, 712 Cathedral St., $15-$20, bsfa.org
- The Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker on Dec. 16-17 at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center's Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St., $46-$199. france-merrickpac.com
'A Christmas Carol'
Admit it — even though you're too old to believe in ghosts, a chill still runs up your spine when Marley's specter pays a surprise visit to Ebenezer Scrooge. The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's version of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" sets the action in 19th-century Baltimore, with Scrooge and Marley's countinghouse located in the landmark 1886 Mercantile Trust building that the theater troupe now calls home. 7 S. Calvert St. Opens Friday and runs through Dec. 23. $19-$65. chesapeakeshakespeare.com
And if you're looking for yet another twist on the classic tale, Charm City Ballet is presenting it in dance form via its original ballet. 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Gordon Center for Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynbrook Ave. in Owings Mills. $18-$26. charmcityballet.com
Holly Jolly Trolley Tours
Enjoy an evening filled with holiday music, light displays and neighborhood decorations, all from the comfort of a trolley. The two-hour tour goes through Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton, then to the Miracle on 34th Street in Hampden. Tours run 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, starting Friday and running through Jan. 1. 500 Light St. $15.95-$29.95. baltimore.org
Small Business Saturday might be in the past, but there are still plenty of chances to shop local for your gifts, thanks to various Midnight Madness events. Ellicott City will host its version starting with a tree lighting at 6 p.m. Friday in front of the Howard County Welcome Center, 8267 Main St. Then local shops will be offering deals and extended hours through midnight (visitellicottcity.com). Downtown Annapolis will turn into a holiday block party for its own version, 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday and 6 p.m.-11 p.m. Dec. 15. (downtownannapolispartnership.org). Federal Hill shops and galleries will offer sales and giveaways, and there will also be strolling carolers and kid-friendly activities at 7 p.m. Dec. 9. (fedhill.org)
Olde Tyme Christmas in Fells Point
Enjoy a day's worth of holiday spirit at Olde Tyme Christmas in Fells Point. Start by eating breakfast with St. Nick (9 a.m. at Barcocina, 1629 Thames St., and Points South Latin Kitchen, 1640 Thames St.), then watch the tree lighting (5 p.m.) and experience the Lighted Boat Parade (6 p.m.). Other activities include a beverage garden, as well as an eggnog contest (11 a.m.) for those 21 and older. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday. All festivities are centered around Broadway and Thames Street. Free. oldetymechristmas.com
Mayor's Christmas Parade
It's the holiday season, which means it's time for the 43rd annual Mayor's Christmas Parade. There are sure to be appearances by elected officials, as well as floats, marching bands, dance troupes and, of course, Santa Claus. The 2.5-mile route in the Medfield-Hampden area begins at the Poly-Western complex, 1400 W Cold Spring Lane, and ends at 37th Street. 1 p.m. Sunday. Free. mayorschristmasparade.com
Bel Air Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting
The 27th annual parade (3:30 p.m. Sunday) will feature stilt-walkers, acrobats and local high school marching bands, and appearances by both Mr. and Mrs. Claus. And don't miss the tree lighting at the town hall (4:45 p.m.) The festivities begin at 2:30 p.m. with a concert in front of the Harford County Circuit Courthouse (20 W. Courtland St.). Free. belairmaryland.org
'A Christmas Story'
Nothing says Christmas quite like an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Air Rifle. Ralphie Parker, the bespectacled urchin at the center of the Tony Award-winning "A Christmas Story, The Musical" has sugarplum dreams of the BB gun with the smooth-bore barrel, and will stop at nothing to ensure that one ends up under his tree on Christmas morning. The national Broadway tour arrives at the Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St. 8 p.m. Tuesday-next Friday; 2 p.m., 8 p.m. Dec. 10; 1 p.m., 6:30 p.m. Dec. 11. $42-$147. france-merrickpac.com
Holiday burlesque show
The holiday show at Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Ave., features award-winning burlesque star Trixie Little. It's a Baltimore tradition sure to be filled with tinsel tassels, stripping and lots of laughs. 8 p.m. Dec. 8-10 and Dec. 15; 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Dec. 16-17. $17-$25. creativealliance.org
Holidays at Hampton
Tour the 18th-century estate, including the Georgian-style mansion, original farmhouse and slave quarters. Candlelight tours will be offered, which is only time of the year you can see the historic house at night. Other highlights include African-American storytelling, period crafts and Christmas carols. Hampton National Historic Site, 535 Hampton Lane, Towson. Free. 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 10; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 11. historichampton.org
Morgan State choir
The renowned MSU choir performs its annual program of classical, gospel and traditional holiday songs. 4 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Murphy Fine Arts Center, 2201 Argonne Drive. $10-$25. murphyfineartscenter.org
Check your swords at the door, and absolutely no hoop skirts allowed. Those were the space-saving instructions at the crowded Dublin premiere of Handel's "Messiah" in 1742, and Baltimore Choral Arts Society's "Sing-Along Messiah" is sure to draw another crowd. The last "Messiah" during Tom Hall's 35-year tenure as the group's music director begins at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16 in Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, 1021 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson. $25. baltimorechoralarts.org
New York pop-rocker Gavin DeGraw, singer-songwriter Andy Grammer and actress-singer Hailee Steinfeld headline Mistletoe Meltdown 2016, sponsored by radio station WLIM-FM (MIX 106.5). 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. $45-$65. lyricbaltimore.com
Storm Large, a former finalist on CBS' "Rock Star: Supernova" and now vocalist for the Portland-based band Pink Martini, will join the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and conductor Timothy Myers for a program of carols, classics and surprises. Throw in an appearance by the Tap-Dancing Santas, and what more could anyone want? 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18 at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. $25-$75. bsomusic.org
Ugly Sweater Run
Ugly sweaters have become a staple of the holiday season — so much so that Baltimoreans will be donning the most hideous knitted creations they can find to run a 5K on Dec. 17. The run, part of a nationwide series, begins at 9 a.m. at Rash Field, 201 Key Highway.
And who cares who wins the race? There are much more important awards, such as Best Ugly Sweater and Best Real/Fake Mustache/Beard, to be won. $25. theuglysweaterrun.com
Tuba and euphonium players perform Christmas carols in this free concert at 3:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater (201 E. Pratt St.). It's part of a worldwide event honoring musician William J. Bell, who was born on Christmas Day. There are also performances in Bel Air at 5 p.m. Dec. 18 at Bel Air High School Auditorium (100 Heighe St.) and in Annapolis at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Anne's Church (199 Duke of Gloucester St.). tubachristmas.com
Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith
Christian artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith perform as part of their Christmas tour at the Royal Farms Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St. The Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and Jordan Smith, Season 9 winner of NBC's "The Voice," will also be on hand. $39.50-$150. 7 p.m. Dec. 18. royalfarmsarena.com
Snowflake tour of Charles Village
Walk the streets of Charles Village while admiring festively decorated homes on a self-guided tour. Tickets, which cost $12-$15, include admission to the Homewood Museum on the Johns Hopkins University campus. Who knows? If the weather cooperates, there might even be actual snowflakes. Tour starts at 2521 Saint Paul St. Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 18. snowflaketour.info
'A John Waters Christmas'
The man who gave us "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray" mocks the season in his annual one-man show. 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at Baltimore Soundstage. $40-$45. baltimoresoundstage.com
Hanukkah festival, Inner Harbor
In the ultimate "Chrismukah" move, the first night of Hanukkah falls on Christmas Eve this year. Baltimore will be out to celebrate the next day with a festival of light in McKeldin Square, Pratt and Light streets. Festivities, including live music, a kosher food truck and more, begin at 2 p.m. Dec. 25; the grand menorah will be lit at 4:30 p.m. baltimorechanukahfestival.com
Learn about this seven-day cultural celebration based on African festivals at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, 830 E. Pratt St.
Explore the seven Kwanzaa principles, especially the fifth day's, Nia, which means purpose. Other highlights include storytelling, African dancing and drumming by the Sankofa Dance Theater, and craft making. Noon-4 p.m. Dec. 30. $5. lewismuseum.org
Baltimore's Inner Harbor transforms into a German-style Christmas market for the holiday season, featuring vendors, food and more. 501 Light St. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays through Dec. 24. $0-$3. baltimore-christmas.com
Holiday train gardens
Nothing gets the holiday season on track like this Baltimore tradition, and there are plenty of versions to choose from. TheMagical Holiday Express at the B&O Railroad Museum, 1 W. Pratt St., features not just model train layouts, but train rides, crafts and themed activities throughout December (opens Saturday and runs through Jan. 2. $12-$18, plus $2-$3 for train rides. borail.org). The museum's Ellicott City Station offshoot, 2711 Maryland Ave., also gets in on the fun with the Holiday Festival of Trains (10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Fridays-Sundays through Jan. 29, plus Dec. 26-29. $3-$4). And if you're looking for a local staple, you can't go wrong with the Fire Museum of Maryland's annual train garden (10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 24 and Dec. 28-31 at 1301 York Road in Lutherville, $6-$14. firemuseummd.org) or the Highlandtown Train Garden, (11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Jan. 2. At 520 S. Conkling St. Free. highlandtowntraingarden.blogspot.com).
It never does quite feel like the holidays without taking a drive or stroll by gaudy lights. See Hampden glow at the famed Miracle on 34th Street display (evenings through Dec. 31. 700 block of 34th St. Free. christmasstreet.com.). Take a scenic drive along the Chesapeake shore at Lights by the Bay, which includes over 60 displays (5 p.m.-10 p.m. through Jan. 1, Sandy Point State Park, 1100 E. College Parkway, Annapolis. $15-$50. lightsonthebay.org). And experience the larger-than-life illuminated creations and new features such as a 3-D holiday video and laser light show at the Symphony of Lights (5:30-p.m.-10 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays through Jan. 1. Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods in Columbia, $25-$40. hopkinsmedicine.org).
*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was providing music for the Baltimore School for the Arts "Nutcracker" performance. The BSO is not involved in the production. The Sun regrets the error.