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Top holiday events in the Baltimore area this season

We don't blame those who like to spend the waning weeks of 2014 indoors. For one thing, it's cold. For another, you'll likely encounter traffic (both the people and car versions) anywhere you go to shop. Yuck.

And your fireplace and pajamas are calling.

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But from now until the end of December, there's a bevy of seasonal offerings in the area that should lure you out of hibernation, from eclectic Christmas light displays and holiday parties to theater and concert favorites. Oh, and there's lounge singing and burlesque, too.

Here's your guide to making sure this time of year really is the most wonderful.

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It's a Waterfront Life

This annual promotion's big newbie this year is the welcome return of an ice rink to the Inner Harbor (it opened Nov. 21 and runs through Jan. 19, in McKeldin Plaza). But when you've finished your triple lutzes, there's much more to explore. Photos with Santa run now through Dec. 24, the Christmas Village (see art-market sidebar) is open now through Dec. 24, and the Holly Jolly tour (running today through Dec 25, launching from the Pier 5 Hotel), takes you through brightly decorated Baltimore neighborhoods. And that's just scratching the surface. For a full list of events, go to waterfrontpartnership.org.

'It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play'

Frank Capra's classic-for-a-reason film gets a memorable twist, set inside a radio station airing a live broadcast version of the story. Yes, you're the live audience. Expect feel-good holiday goosebumps as you go back to Bedford Falls. Tickets start at $19. centerstage.org.

Holiday Festival of Trains

Nov. 28 through Jan. 25. B&O Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station, 2711 Maryland Ave., Ellicott City.

One of the area's largest train displays, Ellicott City Station offers a multilevel Lego layout with interactive elements, a new O-scale layout and a children's interactive layout. And Santa, apparently a fan of the rails, makes an appearance throughout this weekend. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays, starting Friday. $6-$8 (free for members). borail.org.

Festival of Trees

Kennedy Krieger Institute's popular fundraiser is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and while the 700 inventively decorated trees and holiday eats return, there's also some new experiences, including Ravens kicker Justin Tucker leading a holiday story reading session (5:30 p.m. Friday). Oh, and Santa and Mrs. Claus make it legal during a wedding ceremony at 11 a.m. Saturday. Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. $7-$13 (ages 4 and younger are free). festivaloftrees.kennedykrieger.org.

Miracle on 34th Street

A Baltimore tradition one should never miss. The good Hampden folks of 34th Street hang their lights and welcome the city to their block. The grand lighting is Saturday, and the block will remain lit throughout the year, seven days a week. Pure magic. christmasstreet.com.

Bike the Lights

New this year to the Symphony of Lights (on view now through Jan. 4) is a chance to experience it on two wheels. Bike the Lights is for all ages and abilities (and people may walk with bikers). It's your chance for a more up-close-than-usual look at the fantastic displays. 4:15 p.m.-6:15 p.m.; last admission is 5:45 p.m.). $10-$12 (children 10 and younger are free). hcgh.org/symphonyoflights.

Christmas with Choral Arts

Baltimore Choral Arts Society Music Director Tom Hall leads the full chorus and orchestra at the historic venue in a program of classical favorites (Handel's "Messiah," perhaps?), in this award-winning program. 7:30 p.m. $25-$75. baltimorechoralarts.org.

'A Christmas Carol'

You know Charles Dickens' beloved yuletide tale. If not, please email me so we can have a conversation. But you don't know it like this. Yes, Scrooge and all the ghosts are there, but instead of Victorian England, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's version takes place in 19th-century downtown Baltimore. Because, of course Scrooge would work in the business district. Previews Dec. 3-4; Dec. 5 opening night. Tickets start at $15. chesapeakeshakespeare.com.

A Monumental Occasion

The Washington Monument's annual lighting is extra-special this year, since the landmark is finally fully restored (and ready to be showered with fireworks). The event also includes live music, drinks and eats and special activities at venues, like the Walters Art Museum. 5 p.m.-8 p.m. The lighting itself scheduled for 7:45 p.m. Free. bop.org.

Holiday Celebration at the National Aquarium

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The aquarium decks its halls (tanks?) this year, featuring the "Polar Express 4-D Experience," as well as music and dance performances from around the world. Seasonal displays — and seasonal treats like hot chocolate, spiked and not, by the way — round out the event. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Discounted admission after 5 p.m.: $12 (for film, add $5). aqua.org.

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Olde Tyme Christmas Festival

Dec. 6. Throughout Fells Point.

Fells Point, with its cobblestones and rich port history, is the perfect venue for a traditional Christmas experience — with a bit of technical innovation thrown in. Throughout the day check out the holiday market, pub crawls, and, yup, even horse-drawn sleigh rides. And stick around for the Parade of Lighted Boats, which starts at 6 p.m. in Fells and then moves to the Inner Harbor by 6:30 p.m. There's something about the spirit of people who decorate a small yacht with intricate light displays that gets us instantly in the holiday mood. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Free. fpyc.netfellspointmainstreet.org.

Mayor's Annual Christmas Parade

Dec. 7. Hampden and Medfield.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake dons her Santa hat (hopefully) for the 41st annual parade, which also features floats, motorcycles, more than 100 marching units and, of course, Santa. The 2.5-mile route starts at Poly/Western high schools, crosses Cold Spring Lane and continues south on Falls Road to 36th Street. It then turns east on 36th Street, turns north on Chestnut Avenue and ends on 37th Street. Kicks off at 1 p.m. Free. mayorschristmasparade.com.

A Family Chanukah Celebration

Musician Joanie Leeds leads a holiday concert that also includes activities such as Chanukah-themed crafts. 2:30 p.m. $1. And if you're searching for Chanukah gifts (the holiday begins Dec. 16 and ends Dec. 24), the museum hosts a Jewish Maryland Book Festival from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 14, which includes sales and talks from local authors. The festival is included with museum admission: $3-$8. jewishmuseummd.org.

Festive Flavors

Dec. 9. Cross Street Market, 42 E. Cross St.

If traditional concerts and festivals aren't you thing, Federal Hill is the neighborhood for you this Christmas. For Festive Flavors, after meeting at Cross Street Market, ticket-holders (you can sign up as an individual or in a group of up to 30) receive itineraries and stop at seven bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. $55 includes food and drink at all stops. If that's not enough for you, Dec. 12's Moonlight Madness kicks off with a 7 p.m. tree lighting at the Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center Park (Cross and Light streets) and area shops are open from 8 p.m.-midnight, offering specials. Santa visits Cross Street Market from noon-4 p.m. Dec. 13. Busy guy. historicfederalhill.org.

Holly Jolly Pops

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra offers an array of holiday-themed concerts in the coming weeks, but Holly Jolly Pops is perhaps the most holiday-tastic. There's tap-dancing Santas, for St. Nick's sake! Plus, carols, sing-alongs, and visitors from Cirque de la Symphonie. 2 p.m. Dec. 10; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 and 13; 2 p.m. Dec. 14 (also 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at the Strathmore in North Bethesda). Tickets start at $18. bsomusic.org.

Jingle Fells Holiday Bar Tour

Dec. 13. Fells Point.

Holiday shopping can drive anyone to drink, so you might as well do it with friends. More than a dozen watering holes, like Cat's Eye Pub and DogWatch Tavern, are scheduled to participate, featuring beer, food and shot specials. Don't forget your ugly holiday sweater. 1 p.m.-9 p.m. (registration is 1 p.m.-6 p.m. at The Greene Turtle). $9. lindypromo.com.

'The Nutcracker' productions

Dec. 13-21. Various locations.

It wouldn't be December without multiple performances of Tchaikovsky's enduring classic, and there are three biggies this year. Kicking things off: Ballet Theatre of Maryland's production, from Dec. 13-21 at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St. in Annapolis ($22-$47); marylandhall.org. Next is the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore School for the Arts collaboration, from Dec. 19-21 at the Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave. ($22-$62); lyricoperahouse.com. And finally, the Russians are coming for the Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian Nutcracker," Dec. 19 and 20 at the Hippodrome, 12 N. Eutaw St. ($28-$88); france-merrickpac.com.

Morgan State University Christmas Concert

Morgan's annual concert, directed by Eric Conway, has a bit of everything: classical, gospel and traditional holiday music, with both an orchestra and the Morgan State University Choir. 4 p.m. $10-$25. murphyfineartscenter.org.

Holiday-themed burlesque

Dec 18-21. Various locations.

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Because, why not? There's two big burlesque options this season. Trixie Little's 10th Annual Holiday Spec-tac-uthon at the Creative Alliance (3134 Eastern Ave.) features five shows of "nice 'n' naughty shenanigans," including acrobatics, festive (read: almost naked) dancing and our favorite French horn trio, Trés Horny. 8 p.m. Dec 18; 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Dec. 19 and 20. $22-$25. creativealliance.org. And over at the Ottobar (2549 N. Howard St.), Burlesque-a-Pades, a touring revue from New York City, somehow incorporates "A Christmas Carol" into its illusion- and humor-based burlesque show "A Christmas Shimmy." 9 p.m. Dec. 21. $15. theottobar.com.

A John Waters Christmas

We're not sure why Waters decided to become an annual fixture in Baltimore's Christmas performance season, but we aren't complaining. His show is a hard-R take on Christmas, with a monologue that discusses his own personal (warped) take on the season in the only way Waters can — and should. 8 p.m. $40-$45. baltimoresoundstage.com.

12 Days of Science

Dec. 20-31. Maryland Science Center, 601 Light St.

While our science-based endeavors during the holidays are mostly confined to checking the snow report, the science center is featuring everything from a solstice-themed planetarium show and a "Christmas Bulb Drop Challenge" to toy-making workshops (they'll even post at-home science experiments through their Twitter feed, @MdScienceCenter). All events are free with paid admission: $4-$22.95 (members are free). mdsci.org.

The Snowflake Tour of Charles Village

Snow isn't necessarily promised during this sixth annual tour. But what is definite is a peek into decorated historic homes (and many homeowners offer goodies, like cider and cookies.). The ticket also includes free admission to the Homewood Museum. Tour starts at Village Learning Place. Noon-4 p.m. $12-$15. snowflaketour.info.

Concerts at Germano's

Dec. 20-21. 300 S. High St.

The Little Italy eatery is a reliable source for holiday-themed concerts throughout December, but two of the best are saved for later in the month. The Glenn Angus Jazz Quartet gives a Christmas show at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 ($10-$15) and singer Jennifer Blades and pianist James Harp perform a "Christmas Present" show at 3 p.m. Dec. 21 ($15). germanospiattini.com.

Cirque Dreams Holidaze

The popular troupe's holiday touring show features a bit of everything — snowmen, angels, gingerbread men, reindeer — mixed together with acrobatics, dance numbers, illusions and more than 300 costumes over 20 acts. With Holidaze, Christmas won't be over on Dec. 25. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 26; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 27; 1 p.m. Dec. 28. $49-$69. lyricoperahouse.com.

Kwanzaa Celebration

The museum is celebrating throughout its building, offering crafts, storytelling and performances from the Sankofa Dance Theater. And if you're not sick of shopping, community vendors will offer wares at the African Marketplace. Noon. $5. rflewismuseum.org.

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