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Holiday Roundup: Playing Christmas (with Christmas plays) a historical pastime

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Theatrical performances, of one kind or another, have been associated with Christmas for a very long time. Nativity Plays, of course, began in the middle ages, with Saint Francis of Assisi often credited with creating the first “Nativity Play,” in 1223, when he performed Midnight Mass in Greccio in front of a life-sized Nativity scene that included live animals.

Saint F. sure did like animals.

In Britain, in the Middle Ages, Mummer’s Plays were often performed door-to-door, with actors playing out a wacky story generally (but not always) involving St. George, a doctor with a magic potion, a villainous knight named Slasher, a fool, the Devil and “Old Father Christmas.”

Handel’s “Messiah,” which debuted in 1742 in Dublin as a fundraiser for three debt-relief charities, was performed at Easter time (given that almost none of it is set during the Nativity, most of it dealing with the Passion). It’s debut was at Dublin’s Great Music Hall in Fishamble, appalling local clergy who took to the pulpits to condemn the presentation of the story of Jesus in any place but a church. It’s since become a Christmas staple in music halls and churches, with the popularity of “Sing-Along Messiah” programs adding to the composition’s Christmasy reputation.

And of course, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has turned holiday theatergoing into a pastime almost as traditional as putting up a dead tree in your house or watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” on TV.

In the spirit of holiday theatricality, here’s a list of entertaining and community-building holiday activities in and around Petaluma — including one sing-along Messiah and a few theatrical offerings — to warm you up inside and out.

Happy holidays.

FESTIVAL OF TREES (Friday, Dec. 6, 6-9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7, 3-9 p.m.) — These aren’t your normal tastefully-decorated ornaments-and-tinsel-and-strings-of-lights trees. The trees on display at Hotel Petaluma are decorated by local artists, businesses, clubs and organizations, with a wild array of themes, styles and degrees of glee, delight and holiday happiness. The trees will then be auctioned off, with the funds received going to local nonprofits (recipients to be announced at the Friday night kickoff). Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St. Thefabulouswomen.org/festival-of-trees

‘MISS BENNETT: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY’ (Weekends through Dec. 15) — Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s celebrated sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is set during Christmastime at the Darcy’s estate, during which misdirected messages and the well-meaning meddling of relatives (plus the shocking inclusion of a “Christmas Tree”) all lead to merriment, misunderstanding, near disaster and, of course, love. Petaluma’s Eddy Hansen designed the gorgeous set and lighting. Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park. SpreckelsOnline.com.

‘POLAR BEARS’ (Wednesday, Dec. 4 – Sunday, Dec. 15) — Set largely in 1990s Petaluma (with a heart-tugging scene actually taking place at downtown’s Marisa’s Christmas Fantasia), this true one-actor play returns to Sonoma County for six performances at Left Edge Theater, at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts. Performed by Mark Bradbury, this acclaimed holiday story was written and directed by the Argus-Courier’s own David Templeton. LeftEdgeTheatre.com.

‘A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL’: (Dec. 6 - Dec. 22) — All your favorite moments from the classic 1983 film — the double-dog dare to lick a frozen pole, the scary Santa, the Old Man’s “fra-gee-lee” lamp, the bunny suit, and Ralphie’s desperate quest for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle — plus singing and dancing too. Directed by Petaluma’s Larry Williams, with a cast of North Bay actors including Petaluma’s Ron Lam, the musical version of Jean Shepherd’s beloved memoir of Christmas will be presented by Sonoma Arts Live, in downtown Sonoma. Sonoma Community Center, Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa Street. Thursdays-Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets $28-$42. SonomaArtsLive.org.

TRANSCENDENCE’S BROADWAY HOLIDAY SPECTACULAR (Dec. 6-8, 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m.) — This annual celebration featuring a huge cast of Broadway pros returns to the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts for four performances on Friday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 8 at 2 p.m.). Numbers will include songs from “Peter Pan,” “Frozen,” “Anastasia,” “Sound of Music,” “Fiddler on the Roof,” “White Christmas” and “Into the Woods.” Directed by Tony Gonzalez. Choreographer of the “Rock of Ages” 10th Anniversary Tour show. TranscendenceTheatre.org.

STARRY NIGHT WINTER SOCIAL (Friday, Dec. 6, 6:30 p.m.) — Live Oak School is throwing a festive holiday gathering designed for the whole Petaluma community, with hopes of raising funds for ongoing Live Oak projects. With light snacks, beer, wine and sparkling deliciousness, the event features The Beguilers playing live dance music, a holiday karaoke sing-a-long, and an opportunity to dress up, dress down, dress like an elf, or whatever brings you joy. Masonic Lodge, 9 Western Ave. Tickets $25-$50, available on BrownPaperTickets.com.

‘CLARA’S ENCHANTED DREAM: THE LAND OF SWEETS’ (Saturday, Dec. 7, 6 p.m.) — The North Bay Performing Arts Association and Contessi Ballet will present a brand new Nutcracker story this winter, with Clara’s Enchanted Dream: The Land of Sweets,’ featuring all new choreography and plenty of surprises. This 90-minute dance show takes place at the Petaluma Community Center at Lucchesi Park. Petaluma Community Center at Lucchesi Park. Tickets $10-$20. Tickets available on BrownPaperTickets or at ContessiBallet.org.

HOLIDAY LIGHTED PARLOR TOUR (Sunday, Dec. 8, 5-8 p.m.) — Heritage Homes & Landmarks, associated with the Petaluma Museum Association, is sponsoring a very special holiday tour of three vintage Petaluma Victorian homes (ranging from houses built in 1870 to 1910), each decorated with ornate and elaborate splendor. The tour includes a stop at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum, where refreshments will be served. Tickets $10-$20, available at PetalumaMuseum.com or at the Museum, 20 Fourth St., beginning Nov. 21.

CINNABAR CRAB FEED (Monday, Dec. 9, 5:30 p.m.) — Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater is the raising the curtain on crab feed season with a December fundraiser at Lagunitas Brewing Company. Don’t let the potential for cold or rainy weather crack your enthusiasm, because revelers will eat their fresh, Dungeness crab and sip their Lagunitas beer (or local wine) while staying warm and cozy inside a dry, heated tent. Along with the crab, the price includes pasta, salad, bread and a dessert. There will be “festive raffle prizes,” door prizes and lots of other Cinnabar-ish fun. The deal is, though, reservations have to be locked in by 4 p.m. on Dec. 6 so the right amount of fresh crustacean can be delivered. Tickets are $65, with all proceeds supporting Cinnabar Theater. Catch those tickets by calling 763-8920, visiting the website at CinnabarTheater.org or dropping by the box office (3333 N. Petaluma Blvd.) Wednesday-Friday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

‘A GLORIOUS NOEL’ (Monday, Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14, 3 p.m.) — The Petaluma Chorale’s annual holiday concert will feature a performance of the beloved John Rutter “Gloria,” and other musical delights of the season. United Church of Christ, 825 Middlefield Dr. Tickets $12-$15.

AQUS PETALUMA CAROLING (Saturday, Dec. 14, 5:30-7 p.m.) — The annual tradition continues. Beginning at the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum (20 Fourth St.), singers will make their way to the Hotel Petaluma, winding around through Downtown Petaluma, joining in with Petaluma Pete for a few songs on the sidewalk, and ultimately arriving at Theatre Square.

PENNGROVE PARADE OF LIGHTS (Sunday, Dec. 15, 6 p.m.) — Penngrove invites you to bundle up and come on down to Main Street, Penngrove, for the beloved annual Parade of Lights. Everything from cars and tractors to actual farm animals get covered in twinkly lights for this popular annual event. Plenty of warm foods and drinks will be available from local merchants. Get information at PenngroveSocialFiremen.org.

MAKE A HOLIDAY CENTERPIECE (Sunday, Dec. 15 and 22, 10 a.m. to noon) — Artful Arrangements Crafting Center in Penngrove will be offering classes in creating your own seasonal table centerpiece. Using a “waterfrog” to hold the greenery, the centerpiece is designed to liven your holiday table and stay fresh for weeks. All tools and supplies provided for $10 or $15 for two (grab a friend!). 205 Orchard Lane, Penngrove. Call Diane to register because these classes will fill up fast. 664-8656. ArtfulArrangements.org.

CINNABAR SINGERS CONCERT (Sunday, Dec. 15, 3 p.m.) — Every winter, the Cinnabar Singers present another concert of classic and little known choral pieces from around the world. Elim Lutheran Church, 220 Stanley St. CinnabarTheater.com.

‘THE SNOWMAN’ (Thursday, Dec. 19 – Saturday, Dec. 21) — Petaluma Shakespeare Company presents a live performance of Raymond Brigg’s beloved holiday fantasy “The Snowman,” about the magical adventure of a boy and his flying snow-structure. Narrated by Kristina Wenz, the show features a musical performance by Steven Harrison, a tenor from the Metropolitan Opera of New York City. $10 admission. Tickets available on BrownPaperTickets.com. Hotel Petaluma, 205 Kentucky St. Thursday, 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 7 p.m.) PetalumaShakespeare.org.

CAROLS AND BEER (Friday, De3c. 20 6:30 p.m.) — Join the choir of Elim Lutheran Church for an evening of group carol singing and, yes, beer. IT takes place at Aqus Cafe, 189 H St. Aqus.com.

CHANUKAH AT THE RIVER (Dec. 22, 4:30-6 p.m.) — Chabad Jewish Center of Petaluma once again presents the grand and glorious Chanukah at the River event, with the lighting of the nine-foot “Mega Menorah” preceded by crafts, music, fire juggling, latkes, jelly donuts and chocolate coins, face painting, photo-ops with a life sized dreidel, a big raffle and more. JewishPetaluma.com.

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