I have to admit it. I love Christmas. I don’t mean the day, or even the presents, though those both have their charm. But I love the whole damn holiday season and everything that comes with it. Little white lights wrapped around trees downtown, fake icicles dangling from apartment windows, plastic nativity scenes in storefronts and Muzak versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" playing in elevators. I like spray snow and real snow and cheap batting that’s meant to look like snow. Ribbons and dangling ornaments, train sets and Santa scenes, really sappy Christmas movies featuring washed-up TV stars. This time of year, I even like the mall.
I’m not sure who to blame this obsession on: My Jewish dad, who considered Christmas a national holiday and therefore only celebrated the season (not the reason)? My Christian agnostic mom, who could never find the right denomination but always found the best Christmas Eve candlelight service, complete with bell choir and carols? Or perhaps it’s something innate in me that made me love the cold weather and warm drinks, the dark nights and bright lights, finding it all comforting and safe and magical. There’s certainly an element of fantasy that’s consistently charmed me: as a kid, my favorite game of Pretend was called Tinsel Fairies one whose garland outfits and Christmas Tree scenery rendered it purely seasonal. And now, my favorite game of Pretend is called Boyfriend at Christmas a whimsical daydream that involves mistletoe, a fireplace, and that elusive creature: a man who likes this crap as much as I do.
Whatever the reason, while most people are gearing up for their "Christmas decorations in November?!?" complaints, I’m getting out my calendar to schedule two months of awesome. In fact, I attempted to make a spreadsheet of every holiday fair, festival, and destination I wanted to hit this year, but it turns out there are too many to fit into one calendar year. (Seriously, planners, what’s up with Dec. 5? Does everything have to happen the first weekend of the month?) Instead, I’ve compiled a list of those places, shows, and events that I simply cannot miss.
Best known as a drag bar, I’ve had my eye on this Hayes Valley watering hole for years, thanks to its Christmas tradition of drowning the place in Santa figurines (more than 800 of them) and twinkling lights. Add an enclosed smoking area, pool table, and amazing jukebox and it’s the perfect stop for a bit of holiday cheer any day of the week.
488 Hayes, SF. (415) 864-6672, www.marlenasbarsf.com
Union Square Ice Rink
Sure, there’s an outdoor ice skating rink at the Embarcadero too, but I prefer this one, situated beneath the giant tree amidst the glittering lights of San Francisco’s downtown. Despite the often annoying music, it’s one of the most beautiful spots to celebrate the holidays in the city. Now if only my pretend boyfriend would come with me and hold my hand&ldots;
Nov. 11-Jan. 18. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. $4.50-$9.50 for 90 minute sessions. ($4-$5 for skate rentals.) 555 Pine, SF. (415) 781-2688, www.unionsquareicerink.com
Let it Snow!
As much as I love this season, even I get sick of the predictable storylines of the Christmas Carol/Nutcracker/Miracle on 34th Street trinity (and their endless adaptations). This year, I’m looking forward to watching the Un-Scripted Theater Company weave an entirely unique story, based on audience participation, and present it in spontaneous Broadway song-and-dance fashion.
Nov. 19-Dec. 19, except Nov. 21 and 26. 8 p.m., $8-$20. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m. SF Playhouse, Stage 2, 533 Sutter, SF. (415) 869-5384, www.un-scripted.com
Black Rock Artumnal Gathering
Considering that Christmas Camp was one of the first theme camps at Burning Man, it seems only fitting to ring in the season with a playa-related event. This gorgeous gala benefiting the Black Rock Arts Foundation an organization that supports Burning Man-style art outside of Burning Man — features performances by Fou Fou HA! and Lucent Dossier, beats by Freq Nasty, and visuals by Shrine and Andrew Jones.
Nov. 20, dinner at 6 p.m., late entry at 9 p.m. $35-$200. Bently Reserve, 400 Sansome, SF. (415) 626-1248, blackrockarts.org
The endless iterations of Dickens’ Christmas tale might get stale (OK, fine. I’ll never tire of Bill Murray in Scrooged), but the festivity of the story’s setting never will. I can’t wait to don my Victorian finest (acquired from La Rosa on Haight Street) and get my Christmas geek on with dance parties, Christmas shops, holiday food and drinks, and hundreds of costumed players roaming winding lanes.
Nov. 27 and Sat.-Sun. through Dec. 20. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. $10-$22. Cow Palace Exhibition Halls, 2600 Geneva Ave, SF. (800) 510-1558, www.dickensfair.com
San Francisco Motorized Cable Car Holiday Lights Tour
So maybe we don’t have horse drawn carriages, but we do have those charming cable cars. Why not channel a West Coast version of Christmas in Central Park by grabbing a blanket and some roasted chestnuts and boarding festively-decorated public transportation for a tour of the city’s lights, including Fisherman’s Wharf, Polk Street Shops, the tree and menorah at Union Square, and stops to appreciate the Golden Gate Bridge?
Nov. 27-Dec. 15, Wed.-Sun., 5 and 7 p.m. Dec. 16-Jan. 3, 5 and 7 p.m. daily. $14-$24. Departs from either Fisherman’s Wharf or Union Square, www.buysanfranciscotours.com/tours/holiday_lights_tour_ccc.html
Women’s Building Celebration of Craftswomen
Who doesn’t love a good holiday crafts fair? Especially one that supports such a good cause. This four-day event features unique hand-made crafts and art pieces by more than 200 female American artists, all supplemented with live music, gourmet food, and a benefit silent auction.
Nov. 28-29, Dec. 5-6, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $6.50-$12. Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason Center, SF. (650) 615-6838, www.celebrationsofcraftwomen.org
Vandals Christmas Formal
The punk rock veterans host this year’s version of their legendary holiday show, where they’ll play nearly their entire Oi! To the World album, including (if we’re lucky) that heart-warming family classic "Christmas Time for My Penis." Now the only question is where to get a studded corsage.
Dec. 5, 8 p.m. $16 G.A.; $40.95 with dinner. Slim’s, 333 11th St., SF. www.slims-sf.com
Cantare Con Vivo Choral Concert
My mom has a Master’s in music, so it’s probably no surprise that I can’t make it through a holiday season without seeking out some classic carols. This year, I’ll forego Handel’s Messiah for this stunning 100-voice ensemble, accompanied by brass and organ.
Dec. 6, 3 5 p.m. $10-$40. First Presbyterian Church, 27th and Broadway, Oakl. (510) 836-0789, www.cantareconvivo.org
The Making of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol
Author Darrell Van Citters discusses his book about the first-ever animated Christmas special, a ’60s classic that’s all but forgotten to new generations.
Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.-9:00 p.m., free. Cartoon Art Museum, 655 Mission, SF. (415) CAR-TOON, www.cartoonart.org
The only thing more delightful than the sight of hundreds of Santas drinking, dancing, and causing a rukus in public is being one of those Santas. Perhaps the best known and loved creation of the Cacophony Society, this annual bar crawl/flash mob/guerilla art piece has become one of my favorite holiday traditions (at least, the parts I can remember). Plus, as a walking and transportation tour led by volunteers, it’s a fantastic way to see parts of the city I’d rarely visit otherwise.
Dec. 12, times and locations TBA. www.santarchy.com
This year sees Tchaikovsky’s characters translated through a Western lens with "Blazing Nutcrackers," a Wild West-themed participatory dance event with accompaniment by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band. My plan? To channel Clara, by way of Mae West.
Dec. 12, 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. gala, Dec. 13, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. $16-$50. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.dancealongnutcracker.org
MOCHA Makers’ Studio: Adult Art Night
Call it a throwback to my days doing Sunday School crafts (at any one of several churches), but there’s something appealing about learning to make paper and then make holiday cards or 3-D shapes and sculptures while enjoying beer, wine, and each other at this kids’ night for grown-ups.
Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m., $5. Museum of Children’s Art, 538 Ninth St., Oakl. (510) 465-8770, www.mocha.org
Carols in the Caves
For more than 20 years, David Auerbach better known as The Improvisator has been sharing the solstice spirit by playing his impressive bevy of instruments in natural caverns and wine cellars. Wondrous, reverent, and especially during the audience participation part fun, this is the event I’m perhaps looking forward to most. (But don’t tell the Vandals.)
Weekends Dec.19-Jan. 10. $40-$65. Various wineries. (707) 224-4222, www.carolsinthecaves.com
Have different taste than I do? (Apparently, that’s possible.) Check out our events, music, and stage listings throughout the holiday season. For information on tree lightings at places like city hall, check out www.sanfrancisco.com. And if you’re a fan of Christmas Tree Lanes, visit www.lightsofthevalley.com, a not-for-profit Website compiling information on more than 460 decorated homes in 105 cities, to be updated the day after Thanksgiving.