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Arts & Culture

San Diego's Top Holiday Arts Events: 2020 Edition

A photo from the December 2018 production of San Diego Opera's "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce Of 1914.
Courtesy of San Diego Opera
A photo from the December 2018 production of San Diego Opera's "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce Of 1914.

These holiday performances, programs and exhibitions are stepping up to the pandemic's challenges to deliver traditions in less-than-traditional ways.

Art in the holiday season is built around traditions — Nutcrackers, Grinches, Messiah singalongs, carols or the storybooks and movies we turn to year after year. At the same time that it's harder to make, share and experience the arts this year during COVID-19's hold, the pandemic is also making it feel necessary to try celebrate and practice these arts traditions (plus some offbeat options) in whatever nontraditional ways we can.

Here are my picks for winter holiday arts productions, programs and exhibitions in the region. There's plenty of "Bah, humbug" to go around.

Music: Choral


SACRA/PROFANA, Free Virtual Holiday Concert: The San Diego choral ensemble has been producing new pieces via video throughout the pandemic, like their clever socially distant rendition of "Cars" by Gary Numan, and a spooky original piece, "In Times of Hibernation" that debuted at Halloween. You can catch a few of their new works from the recent season, recordings from prior holiday concerts and some pieces from an upcoming holiday album. Details: Saturday, Dec 12 at 7 p.m. Online. Free.

San Diego Women's Chorus, 'We Are Lights' Winter Holiday Concert: Catch one of two showings of the San Diego Women's Chorus' holiday production, which will stitch together new performances of holiday arrangements as well as segments from prior holiday shows. The program will also include ASL interpretation. Details: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 7 p.m. or Sunday, Dec 13 at 4 p.m. Online. Free.

San Diego Chorus of The Sweet Adelines International, 'Wish You Were Here' Holiday Show: A selection of new winter, Hanukkah and Christmas music, some "virtual postcards," and clips and favorites from prior performances — all sung in a cappella multi-part harmony. Important side note: You can order custom singing grams to be digitally delivered to friends, family or even your nemesis, near or far, with a personal message. Details: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Online. Free.

Bach Collegium, 'A Baroque Noel': Ring in the season with Bach and Vivaldi. A quartet of Bach Collegium's vocalists under the direction of artistic director Ruben Valenzuela will perform some traditional baroque pieces, and round out the evening with a talk from Bach scholar Daniel R. Melamed. The group is approaching this as a program video release, so you can tune in on "release day," or whenever is convenient for you. Details: Tuesday Dec. 22 from 4 p.m. on. Online. $25.

The San Diego Symphony will feature pianist Ray Ushikubo for a New Year's Eve performance.
Courtesy of San Diego Symphony
The San Diego Symphony will feature pianist Ray Ushikubo for a New Year's Eve performance.

Music: Classical


New Year's Eve With The San Diego Symphony: This is going to be a very special New Year's Eve. Nobody has any "better plans" so nobody has to play coy with committing to things, and we can all just stay home. Which means you can just plan to watch the San Diego Symphony's special New Year's Eve performance. Filmed from the concert hall in early December with social distancing measures in place, this broadcast will include traditional works and jazz-influenced compositions — Strauss waltzes, some music from Brahms' "Hungarian Dances," Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady," and will feature nineteen-year-old pianist Ray Ushikubo on Gerschwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." Details: Thursday, Dec. 31. At 7:30 p.m. Online. $25.

Music: Rock/Pop, Show Tunes and Jazz

New Village Arts, 'Holly Jolly Cabaret': A virtual version of the north county theater company's annual holiday event, featuring showtunes, contemporary holiday hits and classics, plus a preview of NVA's forthcoming 2021 original musical — also holiday themed — called "1222 Oceanfront View: Home." Details: Viewable on demand, Dec. 14 through Dec. 31. Online. $10.

The Belly Up, 'A Very Metalachi Christmas': The popular heavy-metal-meets-mariachi cover band Metalachi comes to the Belly Up to put a very special twist on holiday cheer. Details: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. Livestream. $15.

Jimmie Cannon Valley Jazz Band, Holiday Offerings: Imperial Valley's beloved Jimmie Cannon Valley Jazz Band will forgo their annual in-person holiday concert (this would be the 32nd year), but will be presenting an online video and new tracks released from their at-home sessions throughout the holiday season. The band is named in memory of Cannon, a long-time jazz advocate and performer in the Imperial Valley region who was band director and music teacher at Central Union High School in El Centro for three decades. Details: Learn more at their Facebook page here.

A photograph from the December 2018 production of San Diego Opera's "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914."
Courtesy of San Diego Opera
A photograph from the December 2018 production of San Diego Opera's "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914."


San Diego Opera, 'All Is Calm' And Drive-In Singalong: After the success of their drive-in "La Boheme" performances this fall, the San Diego Opera will stage a special hybrid in the Del Mar Fairgrounds parking lot. Featuring a live singalong of some holiday tunes with members of the San Diego Opera Chorus (and being shut in your car means no pressure to measure up or even be in tune when you join in), and followed up with a filmed showing of their 2018 performance of "All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914." Set in the no-man's land in WWI, it's a story of unity and a Christmas tree to rival Linus' pitiful specimen. Details: Monday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd, Del Mar. $100-135 per car.


City Ballet of San Diego, Drive-in 'The Nutcracker' Ballet: There aren't many options for outdoor, live performances of The Nutcracker in town — or anywhere, but San Diego has a few drive-in choices. City Ballet's production is part of the Concerts in Your Car series and adjacent to the Drive-In Light Show (which you can add to your ticket for an extra $49 per car). City Ballet has done some inventive and resilient work during the pandemic so it's nice to see them tackle the drive-in format too. I love the "theatre-in-the-round" model, and being tucked away in your own car means that you can chat with your kids about the performance and story without getting shushed. Details: Saturday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. 2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd., Del Mar. $99-249 per car.

Southern California Ballet, 'The Nutcracker' Virtual Field Trip: Ideal for grades 1-7, this grant-funded, free educational variation on the holiday favorite is interactive and asynchronous. Perfect for anyone's attention span and budget. Featuring narrated show excerpts of the ballet plus additional activities like movements, pantomime and costume design. For teachers, parents and community groups alike, and is a partnership with Southern California Ballet and Poway On Stage. Details: On demand through Dec. 18. Virtual. Free.

Danny Burstein as Ebenezer Scrooge, Betsy Wolfe as Estella Scrooge in "Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist," presented in a partnership by New Village Arts.
Tyler Milliron
Danny Burstein as Ebenezer Scrooge, Betsy Wolfe as Estella Scrooge in "Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist," presented in a partnership by New Village Arts.


Celebrating Grinch On The Radio: A KPBS And The Old Globe Event: In this special bonus celebration of "Dr. Seuss's How The Grinch Stole Christmas," there'll be a craft tutorial using some Dr. Seuss-themed headbands, a cooking demo (yes, a roast beast) and a panel with KPBS' arts reporter Beth Accomando, director James Vásquez and a few cast members, including Edward Watts (Grinch). Details: Registration required for the online event on Thursday, Dec. 17 at 6 p.m., followed by radio broadcasts on Sunday, Dec. 20 at noon and Thursday, Dec. 24 at 6 p.m. Free.

'The Temple & The Secret Code' Hanukkah Performance: From a partnership with New Village Arts and the LA-based Kids on Stage, this is a really great interactive and kid-centered program. There are printables and instructions for parents, plus supply lists for household goods you'll need on hand. It blends storytelling and Hanukkah history with sleuthing, decoding and small enough groups to promote audience participation. Details: Multiple production time slots through Friday Dec. 18. Virtual. $15.

North Coast Repertory Theatre, 'A Christmas Carol': This filmed, staged version of the classic stars James Newcomb in a one-man adaptation by Zander Michaelson. Details: Streams on demand through Dec. 31. $35.

'Estella Scrooge: A Christmas Carol with a Twist': New Village Arts partnered with Rubicon Theater in Ventura to bring San Diego audiences a nationwide production of "Estella Scrooge," a musical retelling of the classic tale, with a Wall Street hot shot female main character and a full cast. Details: Streams on-demand now through Dec. 31. $29.99.

La Jolla Playhouse, Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' Starring Jefferson Mays: This one-actor production was filmed at New York's United Palace theater, and it's part of a partnership between La Jolla Playhouse, producer Hunter Arnold's TBD Pictures and On The Stage, the streaming and production platform. Mays is hypnotic in his run as Ebenezer Scrooge (et al). It's a rich and spooky production, playing up the terror of these hauntings with some fun special visual and sound effects. Details: Streams on demand through January 3. $50.

Cygnet Theatre, 'It's a Wonderful Life' Radio Play: Need a break from Scrooge yet? This classic story is reimagined as a 1940s radio play in this adaptation by Joe Landry, also directed by Sean Murray. Cygnet has tackled this before, in a staged form in 2011. Also, Cygnet is offering free tickets to the first 25 KPBS friends who reserve virtual tickets. Use promo code KPBS25 at checkout. Details: Streams on demand Monday, Dec. 14 through Dec. 27. $20.


The Old Globe, The Poet's Tree Holiday Special: Gill Sotu has hosted this new weekly program throughout the fall, and the season wraps up with a holiday special. Sotu's guest will be Kendrick Dial, a Navy veteran, poet, actor, musician and counselor, and is also a teaching artist at the Globe. The show will include the usual discourse on modern poetry, interview with the guest and weekly prompts, but will also feature a special holiday-themed performance. Details: Tuesday Dec. 15 at 5:30 p.m. Online. Free.


'It’s A Wonderful Life,' Virtual Table Read: Karolyn Grimes is the actress who played the Christmas-saving kid in the original 1946 movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." She's all grown up now and participating in a live table read of the script with a bunch of Hollywood stars, like Mia Farrow, Ellie Kemper, Ed Begley Jr., Bill Pullman and more, directed by Victor Nelli. Brought to us virtually from LA-based Ed Asner Family Center. Details: Sunday Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. Online. $50.

A Charlie Brown Christmas on KPBS: The ultimate antidote to the commercial racket. And since we can't put on our own holiday theatrical performances, at least we can live vicariously through some Charlie Brown-directed rehearsals and set design. Details: Sunday, Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. on KPBS and 7:30 p.m. on PBSKIDS. Free.

A still photograph of mixed media artwork by Julius Kalamarz, on display now at Trash Lamb Gallery.
Courtesy of Trash Lamb Gallery
A still photograph of mixed media artwork by Julius Kalamarz, on display now at Trash Lamb Gallery.

Visual Art

San Diego Watercolor Society, 'Solstice Shadow': Click your way through dozens of watercolor paintings in a variety of styles for the December rendition of the SDWS monthly member show, completely online. Bonus: I counted at least three cats. Details: On view through Saturday, Dec. 26. Virtual. Free.

Trash Lamb Gallery, 'Less than an Old Pair of Centenaries': This newly minted South Park gallery and shop recently installed their second exhibition, which is curated and priced with the intent to sell right off the walls as you browse. The pieces are all easily shippable too. Note that the gallery doesn't censor anything, bends toward the surreal, absurd and crude, and no minors will be allowed in without adult accompaniment… ideal if you need a break from the more saccharine brand of holiday spirit. Details: Limited viewing/shopping hours Thursday through Sunday 11-6, or by appointment. 2365 30th St., South Park.

The Old Globe Marketplace: Find dozens of goods and services made by the theater's staff and artists, and directly support the creative people currently facing their 9th month without conventional theatrical work. You can browse by artist and general product type, and purchase directly from the artist's own marketplace, Etsy shop or other platform. Details: Browse the marketplace online.

Join The Conversation

Which arts holiday traditions will you be sure to continue during the pandemic? Tell us in the KPBS/Arts Facebook group.

For more holiday arts events, or to submit your own, visit the KPBS/Arts Calendar. To sign up for the weekly KPBS/Arts newsletter, go here.

Dates and times of events are subject to change without notice. Always check the event organizer's website for the most updated schedule before attending. Check local COVID-19 restrictions and updates here.