Seattle Holiday Arts Traditions Power Rankings

Which annual events deliver the most joy to the world?

For all intents and purposes, the Seattle arts and culture scene shifts into full-on holiday mode as soon as Thanksgiving passes. There’s an unrelenting myriad of Christmas (or simply festive) happenings, many of which happen on a yearly basis (see: our extensive “Holiday Events Calendar” for a small taste). But which Seattle holiday arts traditions are really worth your time? Which feel like annual obligations and which make you excited that December has finally rolled around again? We hope to answer that question with these abbreviated power rankings.

10. A Charlie Brown Christmas at Taproot Theatre

With all do respect to Taproot, y’all realize the animated version is perfect, right? And seeing adults play the Peanuts characters is always strangely unsettling. (If you really need a live-action A Charlie Brown Christmas fix, check out the Jose Gonzales Trio playing Vince Guaraldi’s classic jazz soundtrack from the special—this year at Cornish Playhouse on Dec. 9). Taproot Theatre, Thru Dec. 27.

9. Pacific Northwest Ballet: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker

If you’re under 12, PNB’s Nutcracker is undeniably awesome. The colorful costumes! The big characters! But if you’re reading this, you’re probably somewhere past your preteen years. In that case, this rendition of the classic can be kind of rough. It’s thoroughly kiddie-fied, down to the overly simplistic choregraphy devoid of any wow moments and generally generic feel (the old Stowell/Sendak Nutcracker was miles more unique and had a tinge of darker depth). Maybe try out one of the smaller regional productions—like the ones by Tacoma City Ballet, Emerald Ballet Theater, or Evergreen City Ballet—for a more homey change of pace this year. McCaw Hall, Thru Dec. 28.

8. Handel’s Messiah

From regional religious choirs to the Seattle Symphony Chorale, there are plenty of chances to catch this Christmas staple. And while it’s certainly timeless, unless you’re a choral diehard or stoutly Christian it’s hard to feel consistently moved by it year after year. See Holiday Event Guide for dates and locations.

7. Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker

With veteran dance talent, a nine-piece jazz orchestra interpreting Tchaikovsky, and some risque flair, Verlaine and McCann’s loose reimagination of The Nutcracker offers both steamier-than-usual holiday fare and a solid, professional entry point for those looking to dip their toes into the Seattle burlesque world. The Triple Door, Dec. 7–30.

6. A(n Improvised) Christmas Carol

Similar to Handel’s Messiah, there is no shortage of theatrical productions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (most notably ACT’s version, which is in year 43). But here’s a little secret: A Christmas Carol is a slog as stage show (it’s a story that actually works much better in its many film adaptions). A(n Improvised) Christmas Carol stands as an exception to the rule because while the standard structure of the story remains, audience suggestions make each production a wild new comedic journey. Unexpected Productions, Thru Dec. 23.

Sugar Plum Gary. Photos by Sayed Alamy

Sugar Plum Gary. Photos by Sayed Alamy

5. CookieFest

Is CookieFest just people selling holiday cookies to benefit the Seattle Milk Fund (which helps low-income parents who are pursing higher education)? Yes. If you have a problem with just cookies, well, I can’t help you. Seattle Center Armory, Dec. 8.

4. Seattle Symphony’s Holiday Pops

It wouldn’t be the season without all those oh-so familiar holiday tunes, and the Seattle Symphony’s Holiday Pops concert provides the grandest way to take them in live. There’s a richness to the sound when the Symphony teams up with the UW Chorale and special guests (this year: jazz pianist/singer Tony DeSare, Broadway vocalist Capathia Jenkins, and local comedic a cappella choir The Beaconettes) to musically put the happy in Happy Holidays and the merry in Merry Christmas. Benaroya Hall, Dec. 7–9.

3. Homo for the Holidays

There’s an inherent campy ridiculousness to the pageantry of the holidays, and no production leans into that like Homo for the Holidays. Each year some of Seattle’s best queer and drag performers (like Kitten N’ Lou and Cherdonna Shinatra) band together for a madcap sendup of the season. While mainstay BenDeLaCreme has left the cast to create a new festive show with Jinkx Monsoon (Dec. 21–24 at The Neptune), the pure gay joy of Homo for the Holidays shall undoubtedbly carry on. West Hall, OddFellows Building, 2nd floor, homo fortheholidays-jingleallthegay.stranger Dec. 7–30.

2. Wildlights

Is it possible that Christmas lights displays are underrated? Not only do they offer brisk winter walks and excuses to dip into hot chocolate, but great lights might be the one holiday spectacle equally entertaining to all ages. And Woodland Park Zoo’s Wildlights always delivers on that front (no shade at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s Zoolights or Garden d’Lights at Bellevue Botanical Garden, we’re just going with the most Seattle-specific choice). The chance to interact with some of the zoo’s adorable critters is only the whipped cream on top of the peppermint cocoa. Woodland Park Zoo, Thru Jan. 5.

1. Sugar Plum Gary

There is only one holiday performance that I will go out of my way to see on a yearly basis: Sugar Plum Gary. The one-man performance finds Emmett Montgomery (voted Seattle’s Best Comedian almost annually by Seattle Weekly readers) transforming into his titular footy pajama-wearing alter ego ,who is equal parts twisted and uproariously funny. In Sugar Plum Gary’s world, every day is Christmas, orphanages mysteriously burn down, and Santa Claus is a dark creature capable of unspeakable horrors. Montgomery simply takes questions from the audience and improvises responses in character, leading to hilarious holiday nightmares. It’s as bizarre as it sounds, and is legitimately Seattle’s best holiday tradition. 18th and Union, Dec. 14, 15, 21, 22, & 24.