It's that time of year again, and theatres all around the country are getting into the holiday spirit by presenting Christmas-themed shows. Live theatre has become a cherished holiday tradition for many people, and families, even those who aren't regular theatregoers, often use it to celebrate the season together. This year, countless parents will bring their children to witness the splendor of the classic ballet The Nutcracker, and their little eyes will light up at the sight of gracefully dancing toy soldiers, whimsical, enchanted animals, and the majestic Sugar Plum Fairy. And they will marvel at the unique, multicultural performances by the Spanish, celebrating hot chocolate, the Chinese, celebrating tea, the Russians, celebrating candy canes, and more. The magic of this Christmas staple is undeniable, and for everyone who experienced it in the innocence of childhood, it holds a special place in their hearts.
Ballet, while breathtaking to many, isn't everyone's cup of tea. For those who prefer a more traditional play for their holiday enjoyment, the ultimate yuletide tale A Christmas Carol is a winning choice. Synonymous with the holiday itself, this story, originally penned by the great Charles Dickens, has found its place as a staple of the December stage. But what explains this story's enduring popularity? Aside from capitalizing on holiday nostalgia, it has so many features that make drama appealing. The characters are vivid and memorable, from the curmudgeonly Ebenezer Scrooge to the pure-hearted and sadly pathetic Tiny Tim. The journey that Scrooge goes on is of epic proportions, and his transformation is profound (and celebrated by the audience). And the story resembles the fundamentally pleasing structure of a fairy tale, especially in Scrooge's series of three otherworldly encounters that ultimately lead him to a morally pleasing end. There is a reason (or rather, several) that A Christmas Carol has endured the test of time; in a style appealing to the young and old alike, it embodies the true spirit of Christmas.
Though not quite as old as the previous two, there is another theatre tradition that has become forever identified with the holiday season: the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. The first production premiered in 1933 (the year after Radio City first opened its doors) and was only 30 minutes long. After running for decades, the show was revised into its current, 90-minute format in 1979, and it has been a huge hit ever since. And while some features, like "The Living Nativity" and the Rockettes' performance of "The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers," have remained with the show since its inception, it is constantly changing to incorporate new songs and dance numbers as well as new technology; the updated, 2011 version even includes 3D animation. For many, the Christmas season would not be the same without the impeccable, high-kicking Rockettes and their friends. And it's no wonder. This Christmas entertainment tradition doesn't merely harken back to a simpler time in American history; it changes and adapts along with its audience.
Christmas is all about traditions: gift-giving, feasting, and spending time with loved ones. In a season when connecting with other people is so prominently in the forefront, renting a copy of one of the many film versions of A Christmas Carol, while perhaps satisfying, can not compare to sitting in an audience and experiencing the story anew together. Sure, you can see the story of Drosselmeyer and the Mouse King or the Rockettes' eye-high kickline on YouTube, but you'd be missing out on the excitement, the inherent sense of community that you get from experiencing a live performance. This holiday season, don't just watch--participate in the traditions you have come to love and truly experience the magic of Christmas.