For something a little different, families might check out a LEGO-brick holiday display, a latke cook-off or a performance by 20-plus harps. A list encompassing many of the options begins below.
Young singers from East Palo Alto's Brentwood Academy will perform at a tree lighting at the Four Seasons Hotel at 2050 University Ave. in East Palo Alto from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Nov. 28. Refreshments and holiday activities are also planned at this free event. Go to siliconvalley.fourseasons.com/2011/10/tree-lighting-tradition/.
The Ragazzi Boys Chorus sings festive music from the last thousand years (chants, hymns, carols and more modern adaptations) in "Christmas Classics: A Millennium of Song." The holiday show is 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at the First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $25 reserved, $15 general, $12 for seniors and $10 for students. Go to ragazzi.org or call 650-342-8785.
Selections from Handel's "Messiah" pair up with Mozart's "Requiem" at the Peninsula Cantare choral group's concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3. Joined by musicians from the Redwood Symphony, the group will perform at the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, 305 N. California Ave. Tickets are $20/$15. Go to peninsulacantare.org or call 650-593-4287.
Spanish villancicos — works that combine the sacred and folkloric — from the 16th to the 18th centuries are the focus of the California Bach Society's holiday concert. "A Belen (To Bethlehem)" will be performed with Richard Savino on Baroque guitar and Peter Maund with Renaissance drums at 8 p.m. Dec. 3 at All Saints' Episcopal Church, 555 Waverley St., Palo Alto. Tickets are $25 general, $18 for seniors and $10 for students. Go to calbach.org or call 415-262-0272.
"Christmas 3D" means holiday music from composers including Bob Chilcott and William Hawley, sung by Soli Deo Gloria. The audience gets to join in on carols. The concert is at 5 p.m. Dec. 3 at the First Lutheran Church, 600 Homer Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $25 general, $20 for students and seniors, and free for students up to eighth grade. Go to sdgloria.org or call 888-734-7664.
Mountain View's East West Books hosts the Celtic/medieval ensemble Broceliande for a winter-solstice concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 2. Traditional and early music will be sung and played on Celtic harp, recorders, mandolin, fiddle and other music-makers. Admission is $15 through Dec. 2 and $20 on the day of the concert, which is at 324 Castro St. Go to eastwest.com or call 650-988-9800.
The San Francisco-based Symphony Parnassus plays a holiday concert featuring Respighi's "Trittico Botticelliano," the Viva la Musica! Choir and cellist Amos Yang (in Dvorak's Cello Concerto). The performance is at 3 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton. Admission is $22 premium, $20 general and $15 for seniors and students. Go to symphonyparnassus.org.
Classical harpist Natalie Cox joins a studio ensemble of harps in the annual concert "20 Harps for the Holidays" at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave., Los Altos. The performance starts at 4 p.m. Dec. 3 and benefits the Harpeggio Music group. Admission is $12/$15; go to harpeggio.com or call 408-366-8810.
Seasonal carols and sacred works drawn from many Eastern European traditions make up "Wintersongs," a concert given by the Kitka women's vocal group at 4 p.m. Dec. 4. The venue is St. Bede's Episcopal Church, 2650 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park. Tickets are $15-$27 in advance and $15-$32 at the door ($5 for kids under 12). Go to kitka.org or call 510-444-0323.
San Francisco Choral Artists looks at the Christmas story from an earthier point of view — that of the animals, shepherds and farmers — in Daniel Pinkham's "Company at the Creche." The group will perform the premiere work with handbells at 4 p.m. Dec. 4 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $12-$25. Go to sfca.org or call 415-494-8149.
J.S. Bach's epic Mass in B Minor will fill the First United Methodist Church at 625 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto at 8 p.m. Dec. 6, presented by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Philharmonia Chorale and four vocal soloists: soprano Sherezade Panthaki, countertenor Daniel Taylor, tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone Nathaniel Watson. Tickets are $25-$100. Go to philharmonia.org or call 415-392-4400.
"Weinachtsfest" is the name of the Bay Choral Guild's holiday program this year, featuring J.S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio" and other works. The Jubilate Baroque Orchestra and four vocal soloists — soprano Helena Zindarsian, alto Dianne Terp, tenor John Davey-Hatcher and baritone Jeff Fields — will perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 9 at the First United Methodist Church, 625 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. Tickets are $25 general and $20 for students. Go to baychoralguild.org.
Prokofiev and Loesser are among the composers to be represented at the Menlo Park Chorus' eclectic "Welcome Winter" concert. The performance starts at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at St. Bede's Episcopal Church, 2650 Sand Hill Road, Menlo Park, with refreshments following. Tickets are $15 general, $12 for seniors and students, and free for children under 12. The chorus will also perform the program as a free holiday concert at 11 a.m. Dec. 3 in the Menlo Park City Council chambers, 701 Laurel St. Go to menloparkchorus.org or call 408-314-7589.
The Friends of Music at Stanford hosts its yearly "Holiday Musicale" at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 10 in the university's Memorial Church. Featured performers include the Early Music Singers, organist Adam Detzner and harpist Alessandra Serrano. Admission is $10 general, $5 for students and $9 for seniors. Go to music.stanford.edu or call 650-725-ARTS.
Stanford pipe organist Robert Huw Morgan directs the annual seasonal "Service of Lessons & Carols" at the university's Memorial Church at 8 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10. Admission is free. Go to music.stanford.edu.
A trio of "Ave Marias" (by Poulenc, Biebl and MacIntyre) is featured along with medieval and Renaissance music in the Peninsula Women's Chorus holiday program "Sweet Joy." Concert times are 4 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, 600 Colorado Ave., Palo Alto; and 4 p.m. Dec. 18 at St. Patrick's Seminary, 320 Middlefield Road, Menlo Park. Tickets are $10-$35. Go to pwchorus.org.
Palo Alto High School's choirs present a circa-1545 "Madrigal Feaste" of song and dining at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10 and 11. The Tudor-style "banquet" is in the high school's small gym at 50 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto. Tickets are $75 to sit at the king's table; $40 general and $25 for seniors and students to dine with the plain old nobility. Go to palymadrigals.com.
Irish singer-songwriter Mary Mc Laughlin brings her Irish Gaelic holiday choir to the Vallombrosa Center at 250 Oak Grove Ave. in Menlo Park for the concert "A Gaelic Christmas" at 2 p.m. Dec. 11. The program features traditional Irish carols along with other seasonal songs translated into Irish, with the singers accompanied by Celtic harp, flute and whistle and other instruments. Tickets are $25 general and $20 for kids under 16. Go to coraingli.com or call 831-227-6049.
"A Schola Cantorum Christmas" happens at 3 p.m. Dec. 11, with Oxford Street Brass along for the ride. The concert includes "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and takes place at First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, 1985 Louis Road. Adults pay $20 to get in, and kids pay $5. Go to scholacantorum.org or call 650-254-1700.
"A Holiday Celebration!" is a program of festive music presented by the Stanford Chamber Chorale, Bay Brass and Stanford pipe organist Robert Huw Morgan. Music includes Daniel Pinkham's "Christmas Cantata." Admission is free to the 1:30 p.m. Dec. 11 concert, held at Memorial Church.
Schola Cantorum's Gregory Wait conducts the group's "Messiah Sing" at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. Loaner scores will be available. Admission is $20 general and $16 for seniors, students and children. Members of groups of 10 or more get in for $12. Go to scholacantorum.org or call 650-903-6000.
The Magnificat Baroque ensemble will perform Henrich Schutz's Christmas oratorio "Weihnachtshistorie" together with the Palo Alto-based ensemble The Whole Noyse (which performs on reproductions of 16th-century instruments). The concert is 8 p.m. Dec. 16 at the First United Methodist Church at 625 Hamilton Ave. in Palo Alto. Tickets are $35 general, $28 for San Francisco Early Music Society members, $30 for seniors and $12 for students. Go to sfems.org or call 510-528-1725.
The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir sings gospel arrangements of traditional holiday tunes in its "Gospel Holiday Concert" at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 16. Admission is $36 general, $31 for seniors and students, and $28 for children 12 and under. Go to oigc.org or call 650-903-6000.
The ebullient Stephen M. Sano is back conducting the annual "Messiah" Sing-Along/Play-Along" at Stanford's Memorial Church at 8 p.m. Dec. 16. Attendees bring their instruments and/or voices, with orchestral parts provided. Tickets are $10 general, $9 for seniors and $5 for students. Go to music.stanford.edu or call 650-725-ARTS.
The clear-voiced men of Chanticleer return to Stanford's Memorial Church for the annual "A Chanticleer Christmas" concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 13. Carols, gospel classics and chant are on the program. Admission is $52 general and $10 for Stanford students. Go to livelyarts.stanford.edu or call 650-725-ARTS.
It's a holiday homecoming for violinist Krista Bennion Feeney, who was once music director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra and now returns as a soloist for the "Celebrate the Holidays" concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Menlo-Atherton Center for the Performing Arts, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton. She will solo in Haydn's Violin Concerto in G Major; the program also includes Corelli's "Christmas Concerto." Tickets are $29-$59; go to ncco.org.
Festive tunes played only on trombones — that's the plan for the Gordon Stewart Peninsula Trombone Choir's free holiday concert, to be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 17. Holiday music with traditional, jazzy and classical flavors will be played at St. Andrew's United Methodist Church, 4111 Alma St., Palo Alto. Call 650-493-4257.
The Congregational Oratorio Society and Orchestra, with Joe Guthrie on the pipe organ, will play holiday music by Buxtehude, Charpentier and John Rutter in a concert called "My Soul Doth Magnify." The performance is at 3 p.m. Dec. 18 at the First Congregational Church of Palo Alto, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto. Admission is $15 general and $10 for students and seniors. Go to fccpa.org or call 650-856-6662.
Pacific Ballet brings Clara and her dancing chums to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts at 500 Castro St. for the annual "Nutcracker." Performances are Nov. 25 at 1 and 6 p.m., Nov. 26 at 1 and 6 p.m., and Nov. 27 at 12:30 and 4 p.m. Admission is $24/$28. Go to mvcpa.com or call 650-903-6000.
"Falling Snow," the tale of a jewelry-box ballerina who comes to life, is on the program for the Foothill College Repertory Dance Company's "Jingle & Mingle Holiday Open Studio" at 7 p.m. Dec. 2. Led by dance-department director Bubba Gong, the program also includes a jazz suite, a hip-hop duet and a tango tap number. The event is in the Dance Studio, Room 2504 at Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills. Admission is free, and parking is $2. Go to foothill.edu or call 650-949-7354.
The Western Ballet Company leaps into its performances of "The Nutcracker" on at 7 p.m. Dec. 2, at 1 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3, and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. Tickets are $25-$30; go to westernballet.org or call 650-903-6000.
Another "Nutcracker" will be presented by Dance Connection of Palo Alto at 7 p.m. Dec. 2 through Dec. 4, at Spangenberg Theatre, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto. Admission is $15-$25. Go to danceconnectionpaloalto.com or call 650-322-7032.
Smuin Ballet dancers will take the stage to gospel singer Mahalia Jackson's version of "Oh, Holy Night" as part of the company's annual "Christmas Ballet." The eclectic program will be performed at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts at 500 Castro St. from Dec. 7 through Dec. 11, at 8 p.m. weekdays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $23-$65. Go to smuinballet.org or call 650-903-6000.
The Bayer Ballet Company will perform "A Winter Fairy Tale," a Russian forest tale set to music by Tchaikovsky and Rimsky-Korsakov, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St. Performances are 5 p.m. Dec. 17 and 2 p.m. Dec. 18; tickets are $30 general and $25 for seniors and children 12 and under. Go to bayerballetacademy or call 650-903-6000.
Arts & crafts and exhibits
Artistic nativity scenes from a wealth of nations, incorporating such materials as bamboo, crystal, driftwood and eggshells, are on display in the 24th annual Christmas creche exhibit at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints at 3865 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. The free exhibit can be viewed noon to 9 p.m. Dec. 3 through Dec. 7. Periodic special events during that time will include choral performances and daily marionette shows. Go to christmascreche.org or call 650-856-3781.
Gallery House is holding a holiday show through Dec. 24, with extended holiday hours for showing and selling art beginning after Thanksgiving: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday. The gallery is at 320 S. California Ave. in Palo Alto; go to galleryhouse2.com or call 650-326-1668.
Palo Alto's Cubberley Artists and the Palo Alto Art Center team up to hold a family day and open studios at the Cubberley Community Center, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, from 1 to 5 p.m. on Dec. 3. Artwork will be shown and sold, with artists available to answer questions, and craft activities for kids will be held. Admission is free. Go to cityofpaloalto.org/artcenter or call 650-329-2366.
Handcrafted gifts will be for sale against a background of student performances and live music at the German Holiday Market from 3 to 7 p.m. Dec. 3 at the German International School of Silicon Valley, 310 Easy St., Mountain View. Admission is free. Go to gissv.org or call 650-254-0748.
Peninsula School welcomes its annual December craft fair from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 4 at 920 Peninsula Way in Menlo Park. In the company of strolling singers, artisans will show and sell textile art, jewelry, ornaments, handmade toys, body products, ceramics, glass art and other items. Admission is free. Go to peninsulaschool.org or call 650-325-1584.
Kids and families
Hanukkah arts and crafts, carnival games and, of course, lots of prepared potatoes will abound at the "Whole-Lotta-Latke Cook-off" at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Intended for families with preschool or school-age children, the event goes from 2 to 5 p.m. Dec. 4 in the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall. Admission is free; latke-tasting tickets are a quarter each. Go to paloaltojcc.org.
Kids' games, pony rides, craft tables, a petting zoo and face-painting are among the activities planned for the free holiday barn-lighting at Westwind Community Barn, 27210 Altamont Road, Los Altos Hills. The event goes from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 4 and also includes wine tasting for the parents, along with hot-cider tasting. Go to losaltoshills.ca.gov or call 650-947-2518.
The trains will be rollin' again soon at Palo Alto's Museum of American Heritage. The annual "LEGO Holiday Extravaganza" exhibit, a huge layout featuring Bay Area landmarks done up in LEGO blocks with model trains passing through, will be open 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 9 through Jan. 15, Friday through Sunday. The museum is at 351 Homer Ave.; admission is $2 general and free for members of the Bay Area LEGO User Group and the Bay Area LEGO Train Club. Go to moah.org or call 650-321-1004.
More trains are planned for the free holiday model-railroad show put on by the West Bay Model Railroad Association at 1090 Merrill St., Menlo Park. Trains in three scales will run along, with railroad memorabilia on exhibit, 7 to 10 p.m. Dec. 9, noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 10, and noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 11. Go to wbmrra.ning.com or call 650-322-0685.
For a puppet "Nutcracker" version, families can attend several holiday puppet shows at Gamble Garden, 1431 Waverley St., Palo Alto. The shows are intended for children ages 3 and up, with light refreshments served; performances are at 10 and 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 10. Admission is $15 general and $10 for members. Reservations are required; go to gamblegarden.org.
Marley may be dead, but "A Christmas Carol" is very much alive at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts' SecondStage at 9:30 and 11 a.m. Dec. 9 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Dec. 10, presented by Peninsula Youth Theatre. Admission to the shows at 500 Castro St. is $8 on Friday and $10 on Saturday. Go to pytnet.org or call 650-903-6000.
In a Secret Santa drawing, protagonist Junie B. draws antagonist May's name. The drama unfolds in the kids' play "Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells," presented by the Palo Alto Children's Theatre at 1305 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto. The show runs Dec. 8 through Dec. 18 with afternoon and evening performances; tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for children. Go to cityofpaloalto.org or call 650-463-4930.
The Filoli mansion and gardens hosts its yearly "Holiday Traditions" event from Nov. 25 through Dec. 3 at 86 Canada Road in Woodside. Festivities include a holiday shopping boutique, and a formal dinner party on Nov. 26. Go to filoli.org or call 650-364-8300.
Holiday-bedecked homes in Atherton will be in the spotlight during the Junior League of Palo Alto/Mid Peninsula's "Finishing Touches: A Holiday Tour of Fine Homes and Boutique." Tours are planned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3. Tickets are $40-$65. Go to juniorleaguehometour.com.
The historic Rengstorff House offers up refreshments and carols during its free holiday open house from 7 to 9 p.m. Dec. 6. The house is at 3070 N. Shoreline Blvd. in Mountain View. Go to r-house.org or call 650-903-6392.
Ever since 1940, a two-block stretch of Fulton Street between Embarcadero Road and Seale Avenue has taken on a different name this time of year: Christmas Tree Lane. Festive trees, lights and other decorations will proliferate this season from Dec. 10 through New Year's Day. Drive carefully. More information is at christmastreelane.org.
Walkers will tour seven houses in Palo Alto's College Terrace neighborhood at the 24th holiday hour tour from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 11. The event is organized by Palo Alto Stanford Heritage and features many architectural styles. Tickets are $25 before Dec. 1 and $30 on the day of the tour. Go to pastheritage.org.
Local folks who don't celebrate Christmas often spend Dec. 24 at "Chopshticks," an annual comedy night. This year's event features comedian Brad Zimmerman, who has performed in New York comedy clubs and appeared on "The Sopranos." The event, which includes hors d'oeuvres and dessert, starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall of the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. Admission is $55 general and $50 for JCC members in advance, and $65 at the door. Go to paloaltojcc.org or call 650-223-8609.