MAKING SPIRITS BRIGHT
Holiday Happenings in the Valley
by Stephen Dunn and Kathryn Brooks

Forget the traffic jams, the long lines at the malls, the endless wrapping, decorating, baking and cooking. Instead, get back to basics this holiday season with music, dance, singing and laughter. Guaranteed to get you in the spirit, here are some things (many of them family-friendly) to see and do around the Valley.

TWINKLE TOES

Above: Ballet Arizona and The Phoenix Symphony present the holiday masterpiece, The Nutcracker. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor.

BALLET ARIZONA

Pirouette into Symphony Hall where Ballet Arizona presents The Nutcracker, the seasonal favorite with Clara and her Prince, dancing toys, mischievous mice, waltzing flowers and dazzling snowflakes all set to masterful music. With exquisite dancing, colorful costuming, scintillating Tchaikovsky and the innovative choreography of Ib Andersen, the artistic director of Ballet Arizona, this holiday masterpiece is two hours of pure magic for all family members. December 10-24, www.balletaz.org

BALLET ÉTUDE

This company has been shining a spotlight on the up-and-coming professional dancers of tomorrow for over 30 years, so check out the local talent in their production of The Nutcracker at the Chandler Center for the Arts on December 3-5 and the Mesa Arts Center on December 11-12 and 18-19. Here’s a tip: hang around afterwards and you may get a backstage tour following some performances, https://balletetudes.net

SING A SONG

Above: The spirit of the season comes alive with Mannheim Steamroller Christmas.

MESA ARTS CENTER

The holidays begin on December 10 with the Valley Christian Schools’ Fine Arts Department’s Christmas Extravaganza that features a wonderful and varied collection of carols, visual arts, and theatrical performances for the holidays. Celebrate the Season follows on December 11, a stunning concert by the superb Symphony the Southwest that will include “The Nutcracker Suite,” “Twas the Night Before Christmas” (narrated by Kenneth Goodenberger), “The Polar Express,” Leroy Andersen’s much-loved “Sleigh Ride” and an audience sing-a-long. Dave Koz & Friends Christmas 2021 continues its annual tradition at Mesa Arts Center on December 15. And classically trained string trio will present Simply Three Holiday Celebration. https://www.mesaartscenter.com

PHOENIX BOYS CHOIR

Whoever said children should be seen and not heard never listened to the Phoenix Boys Choir. Ring in the season with the 2021 musical celebration, Let All the World Sing. At various locations, the group will showcase holiday songs and “carols with a twist.” Be prepared to sing along. December 3, 5, 12, 18, and 19. https://www.boyschoir.org

CHANDLER CENTER FOR THE ARTS

Now in  its 32nd year, the Spirit of Christmas, presented by Tempe Dance Academy, features a cast of over 100 dancers, singers and guest performers on December 11-12 and 18-19 as the Chandler Center is transformed into a a winter wonderland celebrating traditions from around the world. On December 22, the father-daughter duo Mat and Savanna Shaw perform their Joy of Christmas Tour. Guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and warmth to your heart, this Christmas show is centered around the hope and joy of the holidays. https://chandlercenter.org

PHOENIX CHORALE

Arizona’s Grammy Award-winning Phoenix Chorale will be all over the map… literally. Like the best Christmas carolers who ever knocked on your door, they sing their hearts out from downtown Phoenix to Sun City and Paradise Valley. Be prepared to sing along with the more familiar tunes. December 16-20. https://www.phoenixchorale.org

Above: The Phoenix Symphony will perform Handel’s Messiah at a variety of Valley locations.

THE PHOENIX SYMPHONY

With performances on December 3, 4, and 5, A Chorale Christmas has become one of the events in the Valley’s festive calendar. Handel’s Messiah returns as the marquee event this season, as guest conductor Case Scaglione leads The Phoenix Symphony and Chorus in the masterwork oratorio at various Valley locations. December 16-17. The year ends and begins with Strauss waltzes, seasonal classics, Broadway and contemporary favorites and complimentary glasses of champagne with The Phoenix Symphony’s New Year’s Eve Celebration and guest vocalist Leslie Odom, Jr. https://www.phoenixsymphony.org

SCOTTSDALE CENTER FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS

Start off your season on December 5 with some soothing holiday music, at the Sonoran Silver Flute Holiday Concert. On December 10, a special performance of Merry-Achi Christmas includes treasured holiday favorites and selections from the mariachi songbook. And, on December 12, the professional musicians of the Scottsdale Philharmonic perform a special Holiday Show featuring many traditional classics of the season. www.scottsdalearts.org

ASU GAMMAGE

On December 3, join the six ASU choral ensembles for a festive program of seasonal music at Holiday Choral Gala: Let Our Rejoicing Rise! Experience the magic as the spirit of the season comes alive with Mannheim Steamroller Christmas on December 28. www.asugammage.com

UNDER THE STARS

Above: ZooLights returns with millions of lights, motion light shows and hundreds of sparkling displays.

PHOENIX ZOO

A walk or cruise through the Phoenix Zoo makes for a great day, but when it’s aglow with millions of LED lights, music-in-motion light shows, 700 sparkling displays, Jengo the talking giraffe and Tortuga the talking tortoise, and endangered species illuminated paintings makes for an even better night. Tip: take kids on weeknights when it’s less crowded. Without kids, go after 8 p.m. On view through January 15. www.phoenixzoo.org

DESERT BOTANICAL GARDEN

The Garden will be decked out for Las Noches De Las Luminarias again this year, making it a thoroughly Southwestern holiday experience. Kids enjoy exploring the meandering paths illuminated with votives, but holding hands on a cold night surrounded by such beauty makes for one great date as well. Through December 31. As an extra perk, Chihuly in the Desert will be all aglow, scattered amongst the fauna.  www.dbg.org

THE PRINCESS RESORT

There’s something special about skating outside this time of year. If you can’t make it to Rockefeller Center in New York City, just visit Christmas at the Princess in Scottsdale. Enjoy their outdoor rink, thousands of lights throughout the lagoon and even snow. Through December 31, https://www.scottsdaleprincess.com/Seasonal-Events/Christmas-at-the-Princess

OLLIE THE TROLLEY

Sure, you can pack everyone in your car or caravan and check out the best Christmas lights in town, but wouldn’t it be easier to let someone else do the driving? Ollie the Trolley is a fun way to tour the best-decorated Valley homes. Pack some hot chocolate and snacks and enjoy! Through December, www.dunntransportation.com

TRAIN PARK

The McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park on Indian Bend in Scottsdale is beautifully decorated. The kids can play in the park and take a train ride through a beautifully lit wonderland. Santa will be on hand every day. Be sure to enjoy a carousel ride while you’re there. Through January 5, https://www.therailroadpark.com

JUST FOR KIDS

Above: Guests on The Polar Express are encouraged to wear pajamas.

POLAR EXPRESS

If you are up in Flagstaff, drive a little further to Williams for a book-come-to-life with The Polar Express. Guests are encouraged to dress in pajamas and should be prepared for a belly full of hot chocolate, an eyeful of fun entertainment and a heart full of joy. Through December 30, www.thetrain.com

EAST VALLEY CHILDREN’S THEATRE

In this hilarious holiday musical presented by East Valley Children’s Theatre, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, a couple struggling to put on a church Christmas pageant is faced with casting the Herdman kids. Probably the most inventively awful kids in history, mayhem and fun collide. December 2-12, www.mesaartscenter.com

VALLEY YOUTH THEATRE

Who better to share a magical evening with this holiday season than that silly old bear, Winnie the Pooh? Join Pooh Bear and friends in Winnie The Pooh Christmas Tail performed for kids, by kids, that is as fun as it is heartwarming. December 3-23, https://www.vyt.com