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2021 Holiday Shows for Every Taste

In our learning-to-live-with-COVID world, holiday celebrations are back in a big way this year. Many favorites have returned to live performances, and we’re highlighting South Bay favorites as well as some off-the-beaten-track events in the Bay Area.

Before we get started, we must note that the Grinch has been at work, stealing two holiday shows that have been traditions in the South Bay for decades.

In a narrative that might be the plot for a future Santa Clara Showtime melodrama, Santa Clara Ballet’s four-decade lease on its studio was yanked last Spring, leaving the company homeless. Company founder and director Josefa Reyes has been searching for a new home but has been unsuccessful so far.


Another nearly half-century old theater institution, San Jose’s Northside Theater Company, won’t be staging its annual holiday show, Charles Dickens’s beloved A Christmas Carol. It too is now homeless because the City of San José decided that the community company didn’t meet city “goals” for the city-owned Olinder Theater.

Nutcrackers and Beyond

The talented family of impresarios and performers, the Guggenheims, are bringing back a film of their whimsical and original show, The Meshuga Nutcracker Dec. 5 and 12, at the San Jose Playhouse at 3 Below Theaters, which they have operated for several years now. The show, set in the mythical town of Chelm, tells eight Hanukkah-themed stories features dancing dreidels, singing sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and a klezmer-ized orchestration of Tchaikovsky’s score. Other holiday specials are on tap at the theaters as well.

San José Dance Theater’s Nutcracker takes to the stage Dec.10-12, and 17-19, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 S. Almaden Blvd., San Jose. The Dance Theater’s production features an awesome Christmas Tree that grows up from the stage.

New Ballet is offering two versions of the classical favorite, Dec. 18-22 at the California Theatre, 345 S 1st St, San José. The full-length show sets the Nutcracker in turn-of-the-century (the 20th) San Jose. For the youngest audiences, New Ballet presents a shorter one-act performance, My Very First Nutcracker.

For a fresh take on the story of Clara and the Nutcracker, the Peninsula Ballet offers its Hip-Hop Nutcracker on Dec. 17 and 18, featuring dancers from The Tribe, Poise’n and Peninsula Ballet in a high energy mash-up of the classical Nutcracker music and Hip-Hop choreography. In this version, Clara finds herself in Hip Hop Land instead of Candyland.

For a change of pace from Nutcrackers, Smuin Ballet’s Christmas Ballet is just the ticket with both traditional and contemporary pieces, including an ever-popular Santa Baby. Shows through Dec. 5 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, Castro Street, Mountain View and Dec. 16-21 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard Street, San Francisco. A virtual show is also available through Jan. 1, 2022.

The Shen Yun Chinese dance and music extravaganza returns to the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts,255 S. Almaden, Dec. 22,23,26, 27. The theme of the show is China’s rich cultural heritage, but the show also reflects the religious and political perspective of its sponsor, Falun Gong.

Concerts Classic and Contemporary

From Our Homes for the Holidays, the Santa Clara Chorale‘s first live concert since the pandemic celebrates being together for the holidays again with traditional carols and choral favorites of the season. Performances Dec. 10 and 12 at the Santa Clara Mission Church on the Santa Clara University campus. Livestream the Chorale’s 2020 virtual concert on YouTube.

On Dec. 5, take in a free afternoon band concert, Christmas at the Hammer, at San Jose’s Hammer Theater, 101 Paseo De San Antonio, with the San Jose Metropolitan Band and featuring holiday favorites like Musical Sleighride and highlights from The Polar Express.

Also at the Hammer Theater, you can enjoy a Cool Yule with San Jose State’s Jazz Orchestra on Dec. 7, featuring familiar tunes in fresh arrangements, conducted by saxophonist and composer Aaron Lington, plus a special performance by the Valley Christian High School Jazz Ensemble.

In a holiday feast for both ears and eyes, Mariachi Sol de Mexico brings the color and festivity of Christmas on both sides of the Mexican-U.S. border to the Hammer Theater with two performances of Merry-Achi Christmas on Dec. 11.

Symphony San Jose offers two special holiday concerts at San Jose’s California Theater, 345 S. First St., two blocks from San Jose’s Christmas in the Park. On Dec. 11, the Chorale and the Cantabile Youth Choir presents Christmas in California, a concert of holiday favorites and singalongs, and on Dec. 12, a Percussion Holiday Concert to benefit Parents Helping Parents.

On Dec. 12, the San Jose Winds Symphony presents its first post-quarantine concert, A Holiday Gift for You! at Saratoga’s McAfee Performing Arts Center, 20300 Herriman Ave. The concert features classical and contemporary music with plenty of popular favorites.

The Lorraine Hansberry Theater Gospel Choir will have you on your feet with A Soulful Christmas, Dec. 17-19 at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre at Fort Mason Center, 2 Marina Blvd., Building D.  The show features both the sacred and secular, from Go Tell It On The Mountain to Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.

Always fresh and original, the Choral Project and San Jose Chamber Orchestra’s annual Winter’s Gifts concert this year is titled Stars and features the world premiere of Bay Area composer Daniel Hughes’ The Singing Bowl, as well as works by other local composers. There are two performances at the Santa Clara Mission Church at Santa Clara University, Dec. 19.

Cabarets and Classics on Stage

The Tabard Theater is offering the big band holiday musical, A Merry Little Christmas Cabaret featuring San Jose’s Nineteen Jazz Orchestra. The show is live and live streaming Dec. 10-19 (and on-demand Dec. 20-31), at San Jose’s Tabard Theatre, 29 N. San Pedro St.

Theatreworks offers a new take on the perennial Christmas tale of George Bailey and his guardian angel Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life — A Live Radio Play, through Dec. 26 at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Rd. A play within a play, the show takes place at a snowbound radio station broadcasting a radio version of It’s a Wonderful Life.

While some people’s Christmas isn’t complete without It’s a Wonderful Life, for others the Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye film White Christmas is an essential. Children’s Musical Theater of San Jose’s Marquee performers brings the popular film to the stage with all its familiar songs, comedy and charm. Performances are through Dec. 12 at San José’s Montgomery Theater, 271 S. Market St.

Before you go check venue requirements for masks and COVID vaccinations.


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