With the economy in the doldrums and partridges in pear trees seemingly in short supply, it's time to rethink this whole "12 Days of Christmas" thing. Maybe, instead of offering 12 things to buy, it would be better to find 12 things to do as the holidays approach - 12 days' worth of seasonal activities guaranteed to wring glad tidings out of even the most curmudgeonly Scrooge.
Traditionalists should have an easy time filling their holiday to-do lists, thanks to such mainstays as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Holiday Spectacular, train gardens at the B&O; Railroad Museum and the annual Mayor's Christmas Parade in Hampden. Those whose festive spirit requires something a little more cutting-edge can go listen to Mink Stole at the Creative Alliance or spend an evening with the guys from "Mystery Science Theater 3000," laughing at some dependably bizarre holiday shorts.
There will even be a handful of visitors from faraway lands passing through Charm City in the days leading up to Christmas, lending their voices (or, in the case of New York City's Rockettes, their legs) to the holiday festivities.
Of course, Charm City revelers could simply spend 12 days soaking in the electric splendors of Hampden, whose proud residents festoon their homes with so many electric lights that BGE practically has to install a separate electric substation just for the holidays.
But happily, Baltimore's yuletide glory extends well beyond 34th Street. Here's just one possible itinerary for an assuredly memorable 12-day celebration:
(Historical note: Yes, we realize that the 12 days of Christmas traditionally refer to the days leading from Christmas to the feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, celebrating the magi and their visit with the baby Jesus. But when it comes to starting new traditions, all the old ones can be in play.)
Thursday, Dec. 3:
The lighting of the Washington Monument, Charles and Monument streets, and the Monument Lighting Festival at the Walters Art Museum, 600 N. Charles St.
Oriole Nick Markakis gets to throw the switch this year, as the nation's first major monument to George Washington once again is turned into Baltimore's biggest Christmas tree, this year decorated with money- and energy-saving LED lights. The festivities at the monument, including fireworks, musical performances and the BSO's Dancing Santas, run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Meanwhile, down the street at the Walters, a free, family-friendly Monument Lighting Festival from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. will include music, art activities for the kids and light refreshments. Walters information: 410-547-9000, ext. 300, or thewalters.org/eventscalendar/calendar.aspx.
Friday, Dec. 4:
The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performs Handel's "Messiah," Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
Edward Polochick conducts the BSO and the Concert Artists of Baltimore Symphonic Chorale in Handel's magnificent oratorio, written in 1741 as a musical retelling of the life of Jesus.
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25-$65. Information: 410-783-8000 or bsomusic.org.
Sunday, Dec. 6:
The 37th annual Mayor's Christmas Parade, Hampden
A tradition that dates to former Mayor William Donald Schaefer's second year in office, the parade begins at 2 p.m. at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane and proceeds through Hampden along 36th Street. This year's version will be led by a giant steam calliope and 150 Harley Davidson motorcycles, to be followed by marchers including horses, Philadelphia's famed Mummers, Miss Yuletide (Maggie Terhune) and Junior Miss Yuletide (Jahna Hawes). There's also supposed to be an appearance by some jolly old elf from up north.
"We have a priest this year who is going to give us a weather prayer," says veteran parade chairman John Kerr, hoping to continue a 37-year tradition of never having to cancel because of bad weather. And the sort of tough economic times that contributed to last month's cancellation of the city's Thanksgiving parade won't get in the way either, he promises. "We've had a lot of local merchants who have stuck by us," he says, "and they still do."
Tuesday, Dec. 8:
"The Santaland Diaries," Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.
Humorist David Sedaris learned a lot about human nature during his season as a costumed elf at Macy's. Little of it is flattering to the human race, and much of it isn't exactly in the holiday spirit, but all of it - as first recounted on National Public Radio back in the early 1990s - is very funny. From Dec. 8 through Dec. 20, Center Stage will present Robert Dorfman in "The Santaland Diaries," a one-man show based on Sedaris' work. Tickets are $25 weekdays, $35 weekends. Information: 410-332-0033 or centerstage.org.
Thursday, Dec. 10:
"It's a Wonderful Life" radio play, Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 S. Anne St.
This could prove just the thing for those who have seen "It's a Wonderful Life" on TV a few hundred times and would like to experience George Bailey and the good people of Bedford Falls a little differently. Instead of the Frank Capra-directed movie, this version of the story, about a suicidal banker and the angel charged with getting him to see the good in himself, is staged as though it were a live radio performance from the 1940s. The cast includes Baltimore actors Stephen Rourke, Jon Sachsman, Stephanie Miller, Virginia Frank, Kara Turner and many others. Mike Moran directs.
The show runs Thursday-Sunday through Dec. 20. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $5-$10 Thursdays, $8-$17 Fridays and Saturdays, $8-$15 Sundays. Information: 410-276-7837 or fpct.org.
Saturday, Dec. 12:
"Mink Stole's Christmas: Unwrapped & Unplugged," Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave.
John Waters stalwart Mink Stole, who has played everything from a homeless woman in 1969's "Mondo Trasho" to Marge the Neuter in 2004's "A Dirty Shame," will be putting her own spin on the holidays, complete with cabaret singing (with a backing band of Skizz Cyzyk, Walker Teret and Scott Wallace Brown) and loads of stories only she could tell.
"I'm very excited about the show," says Stole, who moved back to Baltimore two years ago after 30 years in New York and Los Angeles. "It's a celebration of the holidays, of the spirit of the holidays, but there's nothing religious about it. ... It's very good-natured feelings, that sort of thing.
"There are no cringes in it," she says, then pauses for a second. "Well, maybe a few." Starts at 8 p.m.
Monday, Dec. 14:
Get Your Jingle On Holiday Extravaganza, Rams Head Live, 20 Market Place
Ravens Joe Flacco and Adam Terry will be the hosts for a party to include plenty of food, drink (an open bar, no less) and entertainment, with music provided by DJ Yummy. Sadly, your Ravens hosts won't be signing autographs, but if you're into memorabilia, don't fret: There'll be raffle prizes galore (more than 100), plus live and silent auctions. Oh, and stilt walkers, too.
Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $125. Information: 410-244-1131 or ramsheadlive.com.
Wednesday, Dec. 16:
RiffTrax Live: Christmas Shorts-Stravaganza, Cinemark Egyptian 24, Regal Bel Air Stadium 24, AMC Columbia Mall 14, UA Snowden Square 14 (taped encore tomorrow at AMC Columbia Mall 14 and AMC Owings Mills 17)
The guys from "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and Weird Al Yankovic will be up on the big screen, running roughshod over what promises to be a bizarre collection of holiday-themed shorts worthy of some serious mockery, including an animated "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and a musical short in praise of pork. And everyone in the theater will get a free digital goodie bag, promising all manner of downloadable merriment.
The live fun begins at 8 p.m. Information: rifftrax.com.
Thursday, Dec. 17:
Radio City Christmas Spectacular, 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.
If a holiday visit to New York is out of the question this year, then here's the next best thing, as the Rockettes travel down I-95 from the Big Apple for this high-kicking holiday staple. Backdrops will temporarily turn the 1st Mariner Arena into an assortment of settings, including Times Square, Santa's Workshop, even a humble stable in Bethlehem. And how often do you get to see live camels in downtown Baltimore?
Showtimes are 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $25-$101. Information: 410-347-2020 or baltimorearena.com
Friday, Dec. 18:
BSO Holiday Spectacular, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.
Singer Ann Hampton Callaway will serve as host for the BSO's annual yuletide celebration, as conductor Jack Everly leads the orchestra through a host of holiday staples. To add to the merriment, a bevy of dancers and singers will be joining the BSO, bringing the number of onstage revelers to more than 100. And that doesn't even include the tap-dancing Santas.
"We produce it locally, and that's a very special thing," says Everly, noting that only two pieces of the show, "The Night Before Christmas" and the tap-dancing Santas, are being brought back from last year. "It's all live, unlike certain arena productions of a certain New York thing that is all pre-recorded [music]. This is all our thing, the highest echelon of talent and professionalism and sophistication. That is what makes it unique."
The spectacular opens Dec. 18 and runs through Dec. 23, except for Dec. 21. Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. daily. Tickets are $16-$77; children 12 and younger can get into matinees for half-price. Information: 410-783-8000 or bsomusic.org.
Saturday, Dec. 19:
Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker, Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.
The world's most famous ballet - heck, many people probably couldn't name a second ballet if their lives depended on it - comes to the Lyric with all the color and glory the renowned Moscow Ballet can muster. Expect lots of impressive sets and colorful costumes (including new ones for Father Christmas and the Snow Maiden), all in service to some of the season's most beautiful music.
Showtimes are 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Dec. 20. Tickets are $24.50-$84.50. Information: 410-685-5086, lyricoperahouse.com or nutcracker.com/md.
Sunday, Dec. 20:
Holiday Festival of Trains, B&O; Railroad Museum, 901 W. Pratt St.
Some harried MARC riders might argue there's nothing festive about a train ride, but fortunately, the rest of us have no qualms associating Christmas with the toots, rumbles and whistles of an old-fashioned holiday train garden. Through Jan. 10, the B&O; Railroad Museum will be playing host to many of the area's most avid model railroaders, displaying train gardens that do everything except actually take you from one place to another. Visitors will also be able to ride on a real train today, accompanied by Santa; after Christmas, and continuing on weekends through Jan. 10, Frosty the Snowman will replace Santa on the rails.
"It's just really a festive time to be at the museum," says spokeswoman Dana Kern. "The kids especially love it. I always joke that when a kid leaves kicking and screaming because he wants to stay, we've got another satisfied customer."
The museum is open Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Weekend train rides are at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays, 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Museum admission is $14, $12 for seniors, $8 for kids age 2-12. Train rides are an additional $2 for adults, $1 for children. Information: 410-752-2490 or borail.org.
A selection of other events going on in and around Baltimore over the next 22 days:
Dec. 4-6: : Pittsburgh Ballet's Nutcracker, France-Merrick Performing Arts Center at the Hippodrome; 410-837-7400 or francemerrickpac.com
Dec. 5: : Dundalk Main Street Holiday Festival, Dundalk
Dec. 5: : Holiday Traditions at Mount Clare, Mount Clare Museum House, 1500 Washington Blvd.; 410-837-3262 or mountclare.org
Dec. 5-6: : Holiday Sing 2009, Harborplace Amphitheatre, between the Light Street and Pratt Street pavilions; harborplace.com
Dec. 6: : Children's Hanukkah Festival, Beth Shalom Congregation, 8070 Harriet Tubman Lane, Columbia; 410-531-3115 or beth-shalom.net
Dec. 9: : Collection Tour: Look for the Light: Seasonal Celebration Tour, Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr.; 443-573-1700 or artbma.org.
Dec. 10: : Trans-Siberian Orchestra Winter Tour 2009; 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.; 410-347-2020 or baltimorearena.com
Dec. 11: : Mob TV's Holiday Screening Bash, Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave.; 410-276-1651 or creativealliance.org.
Dec. 11-12: : Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah, Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall; 410-783-8000 or bsomusic.org
Dec. 12: : Bill Gaither Homecoming Christmas Tour, 1st Mariner Arena, 201 W. Baltimore St.; 410-347-2020 or baltimorearena.com
Dec. 12: : Unsilent Night Baltimore; at the male/female sculpture in front of Pennsylvania Station, 1515 N. Charles St.; unsilentnight.com
Dec. 14: : The Stoop Extreme Holiday Show, Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St.; 410-332-0033 or centerstage.org.
Dec. 19: : Trixie Little & Monkey's 5th Annual Holiday Spectac-U-Thon, Creative Alliance at the Patterson, 3134 Eastern Ave; 410-276-1651 or creativealliance.org.
Dec. 20: : Kwanzaa Family Day, Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr.; 443-573-1700 or artbma.org.
Dec. 21-22: : An Annapolis Christmas, Rams Head on Stage; 410-268-4545 or am-fm.org.
Dec. 23: : Collection Tour: Look for the Light: Seasonal Celebration Tour, Baltimore Museum of Art, 10 Art Museum Dr.; 443-573-1700 or artbma.org.