In the flurry of decorating, shopping, and family gatherings, it's nice to take a break and enjoy entertainment that comes only once a year. Whether it is an annual family tradition or a one-time treat, Austin venues have something to offer everyone this holiday season.
Many of these offerings won't make a big dent in your wallet, and several are free. Here are the must-see holiday shows in December:
The Santaland Diaries at Zach Theatre
A little bawdy but perfect for a fun date night or for families with college-aged children. Based on David Sedaris' hilarious turn serving as a Macy's elf, Martin Burke and Meredith McCall will have you laughing all the way.
Through December 25
A Christmas Carol at Zach Theatre
Zach's reimagined version of the Dickens' classic juxtaposes modern pop songs and revamped carols with a Victorian setting. The costumes, the cast, and the music will leave everyone transformed just like Ebenezer Scrooge.
Through December 31
Christmas in the Community with Austin Symphony Orchestra
Once again the Austin Symphony Orchestra is bringing free holiday music to the city in a series of 10 concerts held in various locations throughout the city. Each concert features different ensembles (strings, brass, woodwinds) playing familiar holiday music. The program concludes with big band music by the Starlight Orchestra at Symphony Square on December 23 — a nice multigenerational family outing.
Through December 23
It's a Wonderful Life Classic Radiocast at Old Settler's Park
It's a new favorite version of an old tradition with the Penfold Theatre Company. The charming show draws the audience back in time to 1946 when members of KPNF radio station assemble for a live performance of It's a Wonderful Life. Every member of the family will be rooting for George Bailey, and you may just educate some family members on the power of listening to the radio.
The Nutcracker at the Long Center
Ballet Austin presents its 54th annual production of the Tchaikovsky classic. Certain to become an annual tradition, it's a family favorite and a child's fantasy as they watch Clara's adventure. Spellbinding music, costumes, and choreography keep the young and old entertained.
Holiday Classical Guitar Concert at Faulk Central Library
Bringing the arts to the community, the Faulk Central Library presents free concerts on Saturdays. As part of the series the Austin Classical Guitar and Austin Public Library join forces to present the classical stylings of guitarist Steve Kostelnik. What could be better than warm music on a cold day?
Conspirare Christmas at the Long Center
Conspirare is one of the true gems of Austin cultural arts. The Grammy-winning choral ensemble consistently produces spiritually uplifting, thought-provoking, and moving performances. Conspirare Christmas is Craig Hella Johnson and the ensemble's gift to the community. A mix of pop, folk, classical, and seasonal favorites, this year's special guest is singer/songwriter Matt Alber. If you only treat yourself to one outing this season, Conspirare Christmas might be the one.
Handel's Messiah with Austin Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Austin
If you always associate the "Hallelujah Chorus" with Christmas, put the Austin Symphony's annual performance of the Messiah at Hyde Park Baptist Church on the top of your list this year. Go once and you'll be inspired to return year after year.
Cinderella at Bass Concert Hall
Though it is not a traditional holiday show, who can resist a girl who believes no matter what, a sinister stepmother, a fairy godmother, a glass slipper, and a handsome prince all wrapped up in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Tony Award-winning tale? The score and the lyrics alone are worth the price of admission, not to mention the beautiful costumes and staging.
Holiday Film Series at the Paramount Theatre
The holiday classic film series kicks off with a fun pub run and showing of Elf on December 6, followed by showings of A Christmas Story on December 9, Love Actually on December 11, It's a Wonderful Life on December 13, and White Christmas on December 15. There is nothing better than watching these classics in the grand dame of Austin theaters.
A Charlie Brown Christmas with Austin Chamber Music at Stateside at the Paramount
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown! If that warms your heart, don't miss the live performance of the music of this beloved holiday classic with Michelle Schuman, Utah Hamrick, and David Sierra.
Conspirare's Holiday Big Sing at Blanton Museum of Art
The audience is the choir and admission is free, so raise your voice along with hundreds of fellow Austinites. Members of the Conspirare ensemble are among the audience and song sheets are provided. Modern-day caroling is followed by a performance by Austin's Panoramic Voices.
Believe by Conspirare Youth Choirs
The Conspirare Youth Choirs will inspire and amaze you with their wonderful voices at University Presbyterian Church. Accompanied by violin and percussion, the concert features themes of nature — its beauty and power.
Petra and The Wolf at Stateside at the Paramount
This is a Texas adaptation of the classic Peter and the Wolf, presented by Lionheart Youth Theater and featuring the music of Mother Falcon and the puppetry of Glass Half Full Theatre. This is recommended for children kindergarten age and up.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis' Holiday Shindig at Paramount Theatre
It's become an annual event from Austin's favorite musical couple, Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis. The singer/songwriter husband-and-wife duo charms, banters, and rocks the songs from their Happy Holidays album and more. Special guests are always a welcome surprise.
Robert Earl Keen's Merry Christmas from the Fam-O-Lee at ACL Live
The road goes on forever and the party never ends when Keen takes the stage. Keen's audiences are loyal and seem like a huge family. If "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" and insane family gatherings are part of your holiday memories, or if you just want to have a rollicking good time, this is the one for you. Keen will be joined by Hot Club of Cowtown.
A Swinging Christmas at the Long Center
What could be better to foster holiday spirit than an evening of swinging jazz arrangements of holiday favorites, including "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas Waltz"? Billy Stritch and Jim Caruso will be joined by vocalist Klea Blackhurst. Guaranteed to jumpstart your holiday celebration.
Manheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis at ACL Live
For more than 30 years we have been listening to the magical offerings of Manheim Steamroller and they never get old. The show features classics including our personal favorite, "Hark How the Bells," and selections from Davis' Fresh Aire series. Get the family up and moving and let the celebration continue on the day after Christmas. Grab tickets for a perfect stocking-stuffer surprise.
Willie Nelson and Family New Year at ACL Live
Willie Nelson returns to his hometown to ring in the New Year in style, with a special performance by son Lukas Nelson and his band, Promise of the Real. Special guest Ryan Bingham will join in the merriment, along with Father Time Texas and Baby New Year.
Bob Schneider's New Year's Eve Party at Paramount Theatre
Bob Schneider has a huge Austin following and it has become an annual event to ring in the New Year with the favorite Austin singer/songwriter. You will fall in love all over again with Schneider as you toast to 2017.