Illustrations by Junghwa Park for the Washington Post

Even the Grinch liked Christmas eventually: He just had to see the right thing. That’s what you’re looking for this holiday season, whether it’s cozy, reassuring traditions or pressure-releasing comic relief. Our critics have rounded up the usual suspects that the season always needs, from “The Nutcracker” and “Messiah” to the National Christmas Tree Lighting. You also can consider tangoes and Native American dance, pop concerts and sketch comedy — and if you’re thinking of something a little out of the box, check out the return of the waterskiing Santa or gingerbread workshops. You can even see Dr. Seuss’s Yule fable on an extravagant scale: “How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical” runs for 2 1/2 weeks at the National Theatre. — Nelson Pressley

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Music

Let the carols ring out: The holiday season is when classical music comes into its own. Choruses deck the halls, vocal ensembles make their annual tours and, yes, Handel’s “Messiah” and Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” take over. The following are some seasonal classical highlights. — Anne Midgette

Classic ensembles
The seven singers in the Swingles today weren’t even born when Ward Swingle founded the group in 1963. As the Swingle Singers, they were featured in new work by Luciano Berio and his ilk. Reconceived as the Swingles, they are now promoting their most recent album, “Yule Songs Vol. II” (2015), at the Barns at Wolf Trap on Dec. 2. The all-male Kings Singers, founded in 1968, have followed a similar trajectory, and will be promoting their new “Christmas Songbook” recording at the National Cathedral on Dec. 18. Oldest and newest of all is the Vienna Boys Choir, whose members stay in the group only a few years, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on Dec. 18.

‘The Nutcracker’
The pianist Stewart Goodyear will play his solo transcription of Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet score Dec. 18 at the Phillips Collection. If you want to experience the whole thing in a more conventional format, the Fairfax Symphony and the Fairfax Ballet are joining forces at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts on Dec. 5. And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra is offering its “Swingin’ Nutcracker” with StepAfrica! (inspired by Duke Ellington) at Strathmore on Dec. 8.

Early music
Tempesta di Mare, Philadelphia’s Baroque orchestra, is presenting a concert of Baroque Christmas music at the National Gallery of Art on Dec. 11. The Washington Bach Consort, naturally enough, turns its focus on Germany in its own Baroque concert Dec. 4 at the National Presbyterian Church.

The big choruses
Look for holiday concerts by the Washington Chorus (Dec. 11, 17, 20, 21 and 22 at the Kennedy Center, Dec. 19 at Strathmore); the Choral Arts Society (offering four different Christmas programs, including a one-hour Family Christmas, Dec. 17-24); the Cathedral Choral Society (Dec. 9 and 11, with Joseph Flummerfelt as guest conductor); the Washington Master Chorale (Dec. 18); Choralis (two programs Dec. 2, 3 and 4); and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington (Dec. 10, 17 and 18).

‘Messiah’
Among the many ‘Messiah’ performances in the region this season are those at the National Cathedral (Dec. 4), the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s at Strathmore (Dec. 3), and the National Symphony Orchestra’s at the Kennedy Center (Dec. 15-18). If you want to participate in one yourself, there are opportunities with the Georgetown University concert choir at Dahlgren Chapel (Dec. 5) and the traditional, large-scale, free-but-ticketed singalong at the Kennedy Center on Dec. 23 — after which you can bask in the afterglow until the concert season gets going again in January.


Theater

What the Dickens is happening in theaters? “A Christmas Carol,” of course, with variations all over town. You can take in the big production at Ford’s Theatre, with Craig Wallace newly installed as Scrooge. You might choose Paul Morella’s solo version, which has become a staple at Olney Theatre Center. The Irish-inflected Keegan Theatre is bringing back “An Irish Carol,” and if you want to turn in a different direction while sticking with 19th-century British literature, Round House Theatre is offering “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” Laura Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s riff on “Pride and Prejudice.” Swelling the menu, here are four best bets — and only one springs from the perpetually refreshed “A Christmas Carol.” — Nelson Pressley

‘The Second Shepherd’s Play’
Low comedy evolves into a deeper seasonal spirit in this medieval mystery play, adapted by Mary Hall Surface in 2007 and performed in harmony with the Folger Consort. “The music stirringly navigates the ether between heaven and earth,” Post critic Peter Marks wrote when the show premiered. Puppets and period instruments should bring a rustic feeling to the farcical holiday tale. Nov. 27-Dec. 21 at Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. 202-544-7077. folger.edu. $40-$60.

The Second City’s ‘Twist Your Dickens’
Chicago’s Second City gets around: Not only is the troupe’s “Black Side of the Moon” playing at Woolly Mammoth, but now the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab will host “Twist Your Dickens,” giving the sketch comedy and improvisation outfit double the presents — er, presence — in the District for the holidays. The Dickens parody won’t bless us, every one: It’s recommended for age 16 and older. Dec. 9-31 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org. $39-$79.

‘Silver Belles’
A small-town Christmas pageant has to be saved in this new musical by Washington-based playwright Allyson Currin with composer-lyricist Matt Conner and lyricist Stephen Gregory Smith. The cast for this comedy — billed by Signature as “The Golden Girls” meets “Designing Women,” for audiences primed for 1980s television sitcom references — includes D.C. musical theater favorites Donna Migliaccio and Nova Payton. Signature artistic director Eric Schaeffer directs. Through Dec. 31 at Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Shirlington. 703-820-9771. sigtheatre.org. $70-$99.

Megan Hilty
Megan Hilty was a very bad girl as the scheming vixen in NBC’s short-lived Broadway soap opera “Smash,” but she’s very good in concert. Furthering her association with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe (the subject of the troubled musical-in-the-making on “Smash”), Hilty wowed critics as Lorelei Lee in a concert staging of “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” She also brought swing and sass to an appearance with the NSO Pops at the Kennedy Center. She returns to Washington for two nights in “A Merry Little Christmas with Megan Hilty,” an intimate performance slated for the Kennedy Center’s Family Theater. Dec. 8-9 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org. $85-$99.

Dance

If you’re not “Nutcracker” inclined, or you want to supplement the holiday ballet with dance in a decidedly different vein, these venues have your seat ready. — Sarah L. Kaufman

Northwest Coast Dance
A performance honors Native American Heritage Month, with the Tsimshian dancers Lepquinm Gumilgit Gagoadim and the West Coast First Nations mask-dancers Git Hayetsk. Nov. 25-26 at 11 a.m. at the National Museum of the American Indian, Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. 202-633-1000. nmai.si.edu. Free.

Estampas Porteñas Tango Company
The Buenos Aires-based troupe performs “Deseos . . . Stories of Longing and Desire,” with projections of a Buenos Aires plaza, a milonga in an urban barrio and a rural Argentine train station. Nov. 28 at 7:30 p.m. at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. 301-581-5100. strathmore.org. $28-$68.

DC Contemporary Dance Theatre/El Teatro de Danza Contemporanea
The multicultural dance company celebrates the area’s diverse communities with “Ubuntu: For the Whole of All Humanity,” a program of new and old repertory works. Dec. 3 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 4 p.m. at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600. danceplace.org. $20-$30.

Agora Dance
Featuring music that ranges from Bach to Supertramp, Agora Dance’s “The Kind of Thing That Would Happen” explores the nuances between fact and fiction. Dec. 10 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. at Dance Place, 3225 Eighth St. NE. 202-269-1600. danceplace.org. $15-$30.

Step Afrika! step show
This family-friendly holiday celebration features furry friends and DJ Frosty the Snowman. Dec. 15-30 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993. atlasarts.org. $18-$40.


Food and Drink

Food and drink are arguably among the best reasons to get in the holiday spirit. Whether you have a long-standing tradition or are looking to acquire a new one, here are some suggestions for how to indulge festively. — Becky Krystal and Fritz Hahn

BrewLights
ZooLights, when the National Zoo is illuminated with LED lights and full of holiday cheer, is one of the best events in Washington for all ages. But for one night, adults will have an extra reason to swing by: BrewLights. Only guests 21 and older will be admitted to certain parts of the zoo, where they’ll be entitled to six pours of beer from local and national breweries, plus food from area restaurants. Fittingly, your ticket includes a souvenir light-up cup. Dec. 1 from 5 to 9 p.m. at the National Zoo, 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202-633-3045. nationalzoo.si.edu. $45-$65.

Cookie exchange
The Restaurant at Patowmack Farm has made this sweet event an annual tradition. Each year, it hosts about 50 people for one epic cookie swap. Participants are asked to bring three dozen cookies to share, and they’ll go home with up to six dozen. (The restaurant will be baking tons of its own cookies, so the math is in your favor.) There also will be hot cocoa and apple cider. What makes this event extra special? It won’t cost you a thing, although you’re asked to bring a nonperishable food for donation. Now that’s the holiday spirit. Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. at the Restaurant at Patowmack Farm. 42461 Lovettsville Rd., Lovettsville. 540-822-9017. patowmackfarm.com. Free. No reservations required, but RSVPs are helpful for planning purposes.

Miracle on Seventh Street
Last November, the team behind Mockingbird Hill covered the walls of the Shaw sherry bar with yards of tinsel, ornaments and wrapping paper to create the Miracle on Seventh Street, a slice of holiday heaven where the cocktails were inspired by the movie “Elf,” the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington sang carols and everyone was of good cheer. Well, almost everyone: The bar’s popularity and small size meant some people had to wait outside for hours. This year, though, the Christmas theme will extend to neighboring bars Southern Efficiency and Eat the Rich to more than triple the capacity. Expect more novel drinks, including one that tastes exactly like cookie dough, and, let’s hope, shorter lines. Nightly through Dec. 31 at Miracle on Seventh Street, 1843 Seventh St. NW. miracleon7thst.com. Free admission; drinks $6-$13.

Holiday Total Tap Takeover
In the mad rush of parties and happy hours around the holidays, it can be easy to forget that the season is supposed to be about giving as much as receiving — if not more. Every December, ChurchKey puts seasonal beers from around the globe on its 50 taps, from English strong ales to Belgian Christmas beers to American imperial stouts. Beer lovers are asked to bring canned goods, which will be given to Martha’s Table. Guests receive a four-ounce taster of beer for each can they donate, and everybody wins. Dec. 21 at 4 p.m. at ChurchKey, 1337 14th St. NW. churchkeydc.com. Free admission; beers priced individually.

Holiday cocktail seminar
Having friends over for drinks this holiday season? The Museum of the American Cocktail’s annual seminar will teach you how to make seasonal cocktails like a pro, thanks to a cadre of talented D.C. bartenders, including Gina Chersevani of Buffalo and Bergen and Sarah Rosner of Radiator. The lively presentation includes demonstrations, samples of all drinks and snacks from Archipelago’s tiki-themed kitchen. You’ll be feeling festive before the night is over. Dec. 12 from 6:45 to 8:45 p.m. Archipelago, 1201 U St. NW. natfab.org/events. $45.


Classics

Soon the Washington area will be dressed in lights, laughs and mistletoe. Be sure to check at least one holiday classic off your list with your family and friends. After all, traditions are half the fun of the season. — Savannah Stephens

Season’s Greenings: National Parks and Historic Sites
The United States Botanic Garden gets into the holiday spirit with thousands of flowers, including many poinsettia varieties, model trains and one of the nation’s largest indoor trees decorated with ornaments from national parks to celebrate their 100th birthday. The model trains will wind through plant-based re-creations of a few of those famous parks, featuring such landmarks as the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and the Gateway Arch. Through Jan. 2 at the U.S. Botanic Garden, 100 Maryland Ave. SW. 202-225-8333. usbg.gov. Free.

Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’
Start off the holiday season with the Cincinnati Ballet’s whimsical rendition of “The Nutcracker.” Local children will accompany the dancers, and the Arlington Children’s Chorus will sing along with a live orchestra playing the classic Tchaikovsky score. Through Nov. 27 at the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-2600. kennedy-center.org. $59-$250.

National Christmas Tree Lighting
Break out your winter coats and head to this year’s National Christmas Tree Lighting, a tradition that began in 1923 under President Calvin Coolidge. This year’s performers include Chance the Rapper, Yolanda Adams, Garth Brooks, Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor. Not able to snag a ticket? Don’t worry, the show airs Dec. 5 on the Hallmark Channel. Dec. 1 at President’s Park, 1450 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. thenationaltree.org. Free; tickets required.

National Menorah Lighting
See the world’s largest menorah at this year’s National Menorah Lighting. The program will feature the U.S. Marine Band and the Three Cantors, along with latkes, doughnuts and more. Dec. 25 at 4 p.m. on the Ellipse, 1600 Constitution Ave. NW. nationalmenorah.org. Free; tickets required.

Anacostia Community Museum Kwanzaa
This three-day festival highlights the seven principles of Kwanzaa with storytelling, live music, crafts and dance. Each day will have different headlining acts, from Jessica “Culture Queen” Smith to the Taratibu Youth Association dancers. Dec. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Dec. 29 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Pl. SE. Dec. 28 from 10:30 a.m. to noon at Fort Stanton Recreation Center, 1810 Erie St. SE. 202-633-4844. anacostia.si.edu. Free; registration required.

Waterskiing Santa
For more than 30 years, Santa has been showing off more than just sled skills in this event on the Potomac River. Santa will be joined by the Crazy Elves, the Jetskiing Grinch and, of course, Jack Frost, on the Alexandria waterfront. Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. Old Town Alexandria, between King and Oronoco streets. waterskiingsanta.com. Free.


Offbeat

The holidays are synonymous with family time, and that time is always more enjoyable when you’re part of the action. These events add a festive dose of DIY to holiday staples, and they invite families to be part of the fun. — Peggy McGlone

Gingerbread crafting
What better place to craft a gingerbread house than at the National Building Museum? Its Gingerbread Design Challenge is open to individuals or teams of up to four people, and materials are provided. For something less competitive, but just as creative, head to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, where, as part of the Metropolitan Cooking and Entertaining Show, instructors from L’Academie de Cuisine will lead a gingerbread ornament-making class. Gingerbread Design Challenge: Dec. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. 202-272-2448. nbm.org. $45 per house (plus $10-$15 for additional team members). Ornament making: Dec. 3 from 12:15 to 1:45 p.m. at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, ­ 801 Mount Vernon Pl. NW. metrocookingdc.com. $65.

Russian Winter Festival
Grab your babushka and head to Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens for its Russian Winter Festival, where Flying V Theatre will perform a family-friendly play of Russian folk tales, and fortune tellers and mummers will be on hand to entertain. There will be crafts for kids and Russian music and folk dancing. Dec. 10-11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Hillwood, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. 202-686-5807. hillwoodmuseum.org. $18, with discounts for seniors, members, college students and children.

Handmade Holidays
Seeking inspiration for hostess gifts for the holiday parties crowding your calendar? The Arlington Arts Center has you covered with its Handmade Holidays. Participants will use historic wood fabric stamps (or stamps with designs you create) to make holiday tea towels. You’ll also learn how to make one-of-a-kind gift wrap to package the towels and other fabric items — tote bags, aprons or cloth napkins — you bring to the two-hour session. Dec. 14 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Arlington Arts Center, 3550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. 703-248-6800. arlingtonartscenter.org. $40.

Christmas in 1945
Step back in time at historic Tudor Place, the Georgetown home of two centuries of descendants of Martha Washington. “Deck the Halls: A Family at Christmas” presents Christmas 1945 at the Federalist-era house. There will be games, crafts and treats, along with stories of Washington society. The family-friendly open house is one of many holiday events at Tudor Place, including candlelight tours, teas and wreath workshops. Dec. 3 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Tudor Place, 1644 31st St. NW. $5, kids are higher $10 children younger than 12, discounts for members. 202-965-0400. tudorplace.org.

Movies

A blizzard of new films is blowing into town. But for many moviegoers at this time of year, it’s a tradition to catch something a little . . . warmed over. Here a sampling of some of the classic (and quirky) holiday movie options over the next few weeks. — Michael O’Sullivan

Rifftrax holiday double feature
Former “Mystery Science Theater” wiseacres Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett supply a recorded audio track of sarcastic running commentary to accompany a screening of the 1964 holiday cheese-ball “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.” A second program of holiday shorts will accompany the main event. Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. at area theaters. fathomevents.com/event/ rifftrax-holiday. $8-$14.57.

‘Polar Express’ pajama party
Wear your favorite footie PJs to this Saturday morning screening of the Academy Award-nominated 2004 animated feature about a little boy who visits Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole. Christmas cookies and cocoa will be offered, along with the theater’s regular menu of high-end concessions. Dec. 10 at 10 a.m. at Angelika Film Center Mosaic, 2911 District Ave. (at Lee Highway and Gallows Road), Fairfax. 571-512-3301. angelikafilmcenter.com/mosaic. $8.

‘Die Hard’ movie party
Quote along with famous lines from the Bruce Willis action thriller (only technically a holiday movie, because it’s set on Christmas Eve). Free Twinkies — featured in the film — and cap guns will be issued to viewers. Dec. 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, 20575 East Hampton Plaza, Ashburn. 571-293-6808. drafthouse.com/ashburn. $14. (Children younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult; no children younger than 6 admitted.)

‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
It’s not hard to find this 1946 holiday staple this time of year. But where better to evoke the setting of Bedford Falls — on the movie’s 70th anniversary — than in this tiny, second-run theater that doubles as a church on weekends? Dec. 16 at 6:30 p.m., Dec. 18 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 23 at 8:30 p.m. at Miracle Theatre, 535 Eighth St. SE. 202-400-3210. themiracletheatre.com. $6-$8.

‘Krampus’ and ‘Gremlins’ double feature
Every year, AFI Silver offers a diverse menu of holiday movies for every taste, including those hankering for horror-comedies such as these. Dec. 19 at 6:45 p.m. at AFI Silver, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. 301-495-6720. afi.com.silver. $5-$13.