By Karen Isaacs
Or outdoors, socially-distanced?
These are the options for enjoying holiday entertainment and attractions in Connecticut and New York City.
All of us have our comfort zones when it comes to what we are willing to do, or not, during this pandemic. And, the reality is that the pandemic is still very much with us and health experts are urging us to celebrate the holidays in way that keeps us safe for us, and for everyone.
Happily for us, that still leaves lots of room for fun. Read on to find out how to make sure you and your family has a calendar overflowing with fun and safe holiday events. Don’t let a pandemic take the entertainment out of your holidays.
From the Sofa
While you might miss out on the energy that you would get from being outdoors or even driving around, there’s a lot to be said for the sofa these days. First, it’s comfortable. Second, it’s easy.
This year you can opt to bring New York City right into your living room.
The Rockefeller Center Tree lighting is a big television event, scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 2. You could make a fun evening even more fun by also enjoying some typical New York City foods.
If you wander the streets of Manhattan, you’d see the vendors and smell the aroma of the fat, doughy pretzels and chestnuts roasting on the fire. I’ve never bought chestnuts, but I’d say getting one of those big pretzels is a must. Now you can find them in the frozen food section of your grocery store. Heat them up according to directions, add kosher or sea salt and maybe some mustard: You will feel like a native New Yorker.
Another New York specialty are the overstuffed sandwiches from the delis that seem to contain half a pound of meat. That’s easy to replicate. All you need is your favorite meats from a deli counter (traditionally pastrami or corned beef), some rye bread, mustard, a dill or sour pickle and cole slaw. French fries are optional.
Don’t forget a cheesecake for dessert.
After you finish the tree lighting and your feast, there is more top entertainment to look forward to.
A Christmas Carol
One holiday must-see for me is A Christmas Carol.
There are lots of great options to enjoy this classic.
A delightful production from London’s Old Vic graced Broadway last Christmas and was enchanting. While it plans to return to Broadway for Christmas 2021, you can see a livestream of it from London. The only catch? Details are still hazy. It runs Saturday, Dec. 12 to Thursday, Dec. 24. Tickets must be purchased and they are limited. What’s hazy is how audiences in the U.S. can access the stream. To find out more, check out info on Playbill.com and oldvictheatre.com.
Actor Jefferson Mays grew up along the shoreline and won acclaim on Broadway in I Am My Own Wife, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and Oslo. He’s known for his ability to play multiple characters. That will be put to the test in a one-man production of A Christmas Carol, which will live stream on Saturday, Nov. 28 and will be available through Sunday, Jan. 3. Proceeds from ticket sales will benefit theaters across the U.S. For tickets, visit AChristmasCarolLive.com.
If Dance is Your Thing
If dance is your thing, and if the holidays mean a large dose of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, again, you have options.
Consider going for the non-traditional. The Hip Hop Nutcracker is billed as a holiday mashup featuring the Tchaikovsky music but set to contemporary dance and sound.
The press materials say, “innovative digital graffiti and visuals transform the landscape of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s beloved story from traditional 19th century Germany to the vibrant, diverse sights and sounds of contemporary New York City.” For several years, the live performance has been at the Bushnell. But this year, you have a choice of dates: The Bushnell is streaming it on Sunday, Dec. 13 and the Shubert on Saturday, Dec. 19. For tickets to either, visit.stellartickets.com
A contemporary ballet company in Hartford, CONNectic Dance is airing a filmed version of its original Nutcracker Suite and Spicy that combines multiple dance forms including ballet, modern dance, ballroom, tap, jazz, and more. You can watch it from Friday, Dec. 11 through Thursday, Dec. 31. The link is available through thewadsworth.org. A documentary about the creation of the work in 2009 will also stream.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Theater companies across the country have learned how to stream productions either live or filmed. A fine off-Broadway theater, The Irish Rep, has productions are so realistic that you think you are watching a live performance, even though the actors are filmed in multiple locations. It has just announced a production of the Broadway musical, Meet Me in St. Louis, which features the classic “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The cast is top notch with Broadway veterans Max Von Essen and Melissa Errico. It streams Friday, Dec. 11 to Saturday, Jan. 2. Contact the IrishRep.org for tickets. The theater does request a donation (suggesting $25).
Xmas on the Rock
A staple of Connecticut’s holiday theater, particularly for adults, has been TheaterWorks original Xmas on the Rock. Artistic Director Rob Ruggiero has figured out how to stream this series of playlets about the adult lives of well-known children in classic holiday books, films and television, from Charlie Brown, to Ralphie to Tiny Tim to Clara from The Nutcracker. Each wanders into a bar “at the edge of the universe” on Christmas Eve and talks with the friendly bartender. Jenn Harris, who’s played all the female roles, will be back, but as a twist, three of the actors who have played the male parts will each play some of them. It’s available Tuesday, Dec. 1 to Thursday, Dec. 31. You need to purchase tickets for a specific performance, though the link is good for a period after the date. Contact twhartford.org for information.
Peace on Earth
Want a more serious work that reminds you of the real meaning of peace on earth? Then make sure you see the streaming production of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. West Hartford’s Playhouse on Park streams this story about British and German soldiers who left their trenches and met in no-man’s-land on Christmas Eve to share some holiday cheer. As they eat and drink, they tell stories and sing songs; it’s based on first-hand accounts. The production was filmed outdoors, which is appropriate. It runs from Wednesday, Dec. 16 to Sunday, Jan. 3. You can purchase access by contacting playhouseonpark.org.
It’s a Wonderful Life
A classic holiday film, It’s a Wonderful Life was turned into a wonderful play about a radio production of the 1940s film. On stage you see the performers at their mics and the sound effect person creating the ambiance.
Music Theater of Connecticut in Norwalk is producing it Friday, Dec. 11 through Sunday, Dec. 20. For those who feel comfortable, you can actually be part of the very limited audience for this production (just 25 tickets); multiple protocols to protect actors, staff, and audience members have been instituted. You also can purchase access to the livestream. Due to agreements with Equity, the live stream audience is limited also. Call 203-454-3883 for information.
Longing to attend a concert? Both the Shubert and the Bushnell are presenting Jim Brickman: Comfort and Joy at Home Virtually on different dates. Brickman’s guests will include a number of well-known performers, many from the Broadway stage including Medan Hilty, Kelli O’Hara, Matt Doyle, Sierra Boggess, and others. The Bushnell’s concert is Saturday, Nov. 28 and the Shubert’s concert is on Wednesday, Dec. 23. Proceeds benefit The Actor’s Fund. For tickets to either, visit Bushnell.org (for Nov. 28) or Shubert.com (for Dec. 23) and click on the link, which will take you to jimbrickman.com.
The celebrated Boston Pops is presenting the 2020 Holiday Pops online from Thursday, Dec. 10 through Saturday, Jan. 9. Keith Lockhart leads the Pops in the classic “Sleigh Ride” as well as a Stan Kenton arrangement of “Good King Wencelas” and a celebrity narrator for “A Visit to Saint Nicholas.” Kids will enjoy the “Parade of the Wooden Soldier” accompanied by a film and more. Contact bso.org for more details and tickets.
Especially for Kids
In addition to all the animated Christmas and holiday specials on television, the Shubert Theatre is streaming Eleanor’s Very Merry Christmas Wish–The Musical, available from Friday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Dec. 27. Press materials describe it as the story of Eleanor, a rag doll, who lives at the North Pole and her wish for a best friend and home of her own. You can purchase tickets at Shubert.com; there’s also a ticket and a Christmas Party Box combination.
The Wadsworth Atheneum is also offering access to Winter Wonderland, part of its second Saturday family event series. It includes an excerpt from The Fantastic Toyshop by the New England Ballet Theater, as well as art-making demonstrations, story time in both English and Spanish and a visual scavenger hunt. It begins to stream on Saturday, Dec. 12. Contact thewadsworth.org.
In the Car
Get in your car one evening and visit all the fabulous light displays in Connecticut. Put on some holiday music, bring along some hot chocolate in a thermos, and some cookies, and you’ll be on the road to making some happy holiday memories.
Ivoryton’s annual Illumination is going on with some modifications. The village center will be ablaze with tens of thousands of lights beginning in early December. This year there’s no big “kick-off” event as in the past with ceremonies and music and food. But whenever you can, go see it.
New Haven’s 26th annual Fantasy of Lights, a fundraiser for Goodwill of Southern New England, is open at Lighthouse Point Park evenings through Thursday, Dec. 31. Local businesses sponsor the various displays and volunteers staff the entrance. You stay safely in your car. For tickets, visit goodwillsne.org and click fantasy of lights.
Holiday Light Fantasia, the Hartford display that benefits the Channel 3 Kids Camp at Hartford’s Goodwin Park, runs through Sunday, Jan. 3. More than one million lights create 200 displays including animations for Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s, and Three Kings Day. Visit holidaylightfantasia.org for times and tickets.
Meriden’s Festival of Silver Lights is open through Friday, Jan. 1 and is free. More than 350,000 white lights illuminate buildings and displays in Hubbard Park and Castle Craig on West Main Street.
New York City traffic will probably be much lighter this year. So if you want to see the Rockefeller Center tree in person, you can drive in. A trip down 5th Avenue and a visit to Lincoln Center will let you see some of the decorations. You can park (or take the train) and visit the festive markets at Columbus Circle, Bryant Park (42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenue) and Grand Central for unique gifts. Grand Central also has a holiday train show.
And don’t forget to buy a pretzel.
Outdoors or In Person
These events are subject to change or rescheduling due to weather and state guidelines. Always check before going. Most venues require tickets to be purchased in advance to regulate the number of people at a given time.
The Kate in Old Saybrook is continuing its annual screening of the Bolshoi Ballet’s The Nutcracker filmed in 2014. It is Saturday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. Tickets must be purchased in advance; the audience will be socially distanced and masks must be worn. Visit katharinehepburntheater.org for tickets.
Santa will be at the Shore Line Trolley Museum on specific dates between Friday, Nov. 27 and Sunday, Dec. 20. Families can ride a restored trolley car to Santa’s special car where he and the elves will wave at the children and the elves will deliver a free gift. The trolley yard and barns are decorated for the holidays. Tickets (must be purchased in advance) are available at shorelinetrolley.org.
A Holiday Train Ride
The Essex Steam Train has reconfigured the cars for social distancing and added dividers. This holiday season, they are offering two special events. The Holiday Dinner Train includes a four-course holiday meal served in the vintage Pullman dining cars while enjoying an hour trip. It’s offered on multiple dates between Saturday, Nov. 28 and Sunday, Dec. 20.
For the kids, Reindeer on the Rails is new and designed for this year. Take a one hour journey through the lower Connecticut River Valley. Kids receive reindeer antlers, put together a Christmas craft ornaments and write a letter to Santa. A continental-style breakfast or lunch platter is served. Santa and Mrs. Santa will be a safe distance away to greet the riders. It runs Friday, Nov. 27 to Wednesday, Dec. 23. Tickets are at essexsteamtrain.com.
Each year, Mystic Seaport offers holiday candlelight tours. This year, it has substituted a Lantern Light Village. You can explore in your own group the differences between our modern Christmas and those in the 19th century with lighting, music, fire pits, horse-and-carriage rides, holiday-themed stories, crafts, and games. It is open on weekends from Friday, Dec. 4 through Saturday, Dec. 19. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Visit mysticseaport.org.
While you are in Mystic, visit the Mystic Aquarium, where the Northern Lights exhibit is available between Saturday, Nov. 28 and Saturday, Dec. 26. As you walk the outdoor pathways and see the arctic animals, you can also experience the aurora borealis. This is an evening activity. For tickets, visit mysticacquarium.org.
Bridgeport’s Beardsley Zoo is celebrating the holidays with its Winter Wonderland Walk through Wednesday, Jan. 6. You stroll through WinterTown with 10 vignettes including Snowman Way, Dreidel Drive, Evergreen Lane, and more. The Polar Palace Gazebo features glittering icicles that are the perfect wintry backdrop for holiday photos. Poinsettia Pass has 500 poinsettias in the Victorian greenhouse are just some of the attractions, as well as the animals. You can venture inside or stay totally outdoors. It’s perfect for children. Tickets must be purchased in advance. Visit beardsleyzoo.org/winter-wonderland-walk
Miss Florence’s Trees
In Old Lyme, not only will the Florence Griswold Museum be decorated for the holidays but its annual event Miss Florence’s Trees is going on. Artists provide unique ornaments to decorate the trees. This year, the museum is decorated for a 1910 Christmas and apparently a spirited but friendly competition among artists is going on to see who can decorate a mantelpiece better. Visitors get to vote. All events run from Friday, Nov. 27 to Sunday, Jan. 3. You must make reservations 24 hours in advance. For information, visit FlorenceGriswoldMuseum.org or call 860-434-5542.