Yule be Swell, Yule be Great!

Your guide to Downtown December essentials

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  Like Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Macy’s windows on the weekends and that starved for attention, lit beyond recognition Norway spruce clogging pedestrian traffic around Rockefeller Center, the good people of New York City know what overblown seasonal trappings to avoid. They know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen. But do they recall the most famous Downtown holiday events of all? Yeah, probably…but just in case, here are some choice Yuletide activities as fit for a starry-eyed tourist as a grizzled native New Yorker.

SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT
Holiday music transports us back to a simpler time — when people could sing in public without being judged by a three-person panel, then slowly eliminated through a series of mean-spirited call-in votes by the fickle American public. These events give voice to the most pitch-challenged among us, through singing with a large group or simply watching in silence as trained pros show how it’s done.

You don’t have to live in the area to join the 300 West Block Association in their annual Caroling event — you just have to meet them in the lobby of 360 W. 22nd St. at 6:30pm sharp on Wed., Dec. 19. A brass quintet will accompany the carolers as they stroll the neighborhood while making a joyful noise that in no way, shape or form qualifies as a contentious quality of life issue to be discussed at the next Community Board 4 meeting. For more info, 300westblockassoc@prodigy.net.

At  Chelsea Community Church’s 38th Annual Candlelight Carol Service, the lay-led, nonedenominational congregation welcomes Ciaran O’Reilly and Charlotte Moore — founders of The Irish Repertory Theatre — who will read “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Clement Clark Moore’s beloved holiday poem has particular relevance, and resonance, given that the venue stands on land that was part of Moore’s estate. The service, comprising lessons and choral and congregational singing, includes music from the Italian Renaissance to early American shape-notes to Gospel. Organist Paul Murray will accompany. Free (offerings accepted). Sun,, Dec, 16, 6pm. At St. Peter’s Church (346 West 20th St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). For more info, call 212-886-5463 or visit chelseachurch.org.

Founded in 1971 as a nonsectarian chorus, The West Village Chorale began its Greenwich Village Caroling Walk three years later — and they’ve never stopped strolling their historic, Dickens-like namesake neighborhoods while crooning seasonal carols and songs (except for those yearly breaks from January through November, which is totally understandable). The 2012 installment begins at 4pm, on Sat., Dec. 22, in the Meeting Room of Judson Memorial Church. Songbooks are passed out and the crowd goes on their merry way — then reconvenes at Judson for refreshments, conviviality and more singing. This is a free event (donations accepted). The Chorale will hold its first holiday concert in several years on Sun., Dec. 16, with “A Village Noël.” The selections range from Gregorian chants to music of Medieval and Renaissance Spain to traditional and modern classics. Audience members can join the Chorale for a few familiar carols. MAYA, an acclaimed flute, harp and percussion trio, will also perform. At 5pm. Admission is $25, $10 for students. At Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, at Thompson St.). For info, call 212-517-1776 or visit westvillagechorale.org.

At World Financial Center Winter Garden, at noon on Sun., Dec. 16. the National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene performs “My Yiddishe Chanukah.” This free concert combinines traditional holiday melodies with hot klezmer tunes. Musical director Zalmen Mlotek presents a lineup that includes Joanne Borts, Rachel Arielle Yucht, Dmitri “Zisl” Slepovitch, Avi Fox Rosen, Brian Glassman and Matt Temkin. At 220 Vesey St.. For info, visit worldfinancialcenter.com or call 212-417-7000.

On December 24, at 5pm, it’s a holiday card snapshot or Facebook posting in the making — as you gather beneath the picturesque Washington Square Arch and join the Rob Susman Brass Quartet in the singing of beloved holiday carols. Can’t remember all the words — or any of them, for that matter? No pressure: The Washington Square Association is providing songbooks. Free. At the foot of Fifth Ave., one block south of Eighth St. Visit washingtonsquarenyc.org or call 212-252-3621.

If the Dream Team were known for carrying a tune instead of dribbling a basketball, their starting players would be Klea Blackhurst, Jim Caruso and Billy Stritch. That’s actually two players short of a proper lineup…so in this resepct, our sports reference crumbles. And yet, it’s still worth noting that during last year’s “A Swinging Birdland Christmas,” this sweet and cheeky trio with world-class pipes brought their A game and knocked it out of the park. Poised to claim “Christmas Tradition” status, the third annual installment of this showbiz smorgasbord features music that harkens back to beloved seasonal variety specials, as played the Birdland Jazz Quartet (conceived by the immaculate Stritch on piano, with John Hart on guitar, Paul Gil on bass and Carmen Intorre on drums). Just as formidable is the between-song patter, which manages to skate on a layer of ice thick with wit and thin on sarcasm (with a dusting of sincere niceties and naughty innuendo). Bonus Dream Team player: Jazz violinist Aaron Weinstein will bring his sharp wit, droll delivery and nimble digits to the proceedings. If you can’t make these holiday gigs, the Stritch/Caruso charisma is on display every Monday night, at “Cast Party” — Birdland’s raucous open mic shindig. At Birdland Jazz Club (315 West 44 St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). For info, visit birdlandjazz.com or call 212-581-3080 Six performances only: Fri., Dec. 21 through Tues., Dec. 25. All shows are at 6pm, except for the Mon. & Tues., with 7pm & 10pm shows. The cover is $30, with a $10 food or beverage minimum.

DICKENS OF A GOOD TIME
Like Shakespeare plays and chocolate chip cookies, “A Christmas Carol” lends itself to endless interpretations without ever sacrificing the enduring appeal of its core components. In the case of that good old Dickens tale, it’s the notion of finding redemption through compassion — even if it has to be dragged out of you by three menacing spirits. No matter. When it comes to second chances, saved souls and scoring the fattest goose in town for your Christmas feast, the end clearly justifies the means. These four interpretations of “A Christmas Carol” all end with Scrooge seeing the light — but offer different takes on the path to his December 25 wake-up call.

Music in Chelsea’s public reading of “A Christmas Carol” puts the action in a chamber music setting, and features actors from as far away as Ohio and Pennsylvania — all gathering to raise funds for the Saint Peter’s Food Pantry. Robert Frankenberry performs the role of Scrooge. Taking a page from the author’s premise that judgmental ghosts monitor our every move, the organizers vow that, “Mr. Dickens will oversee the proceedings from afar.” The audience is encouraged to join in singing newly minted carols and help with the sound effects (disconsolate spirits, sea and wind, etc,). Prior to the event, a PDF of the score,  “Christmas Carol Choral Bits,” will available for download in the “Scores” section of rogerzahab.net. Fri., Dec. 28 at 8pm and Sun., Dec. 30 at 4pm. At Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church (346 W. 20th St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). Tickets are $10, $5 for students/seniors.

For the third year running, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe has charged dozens of writers and performers with the task of bringing Dickens’ words from the page to the stage. “What The Dickens?” begins at noon, with Christmas caroling led by the New York City Master Chorale. Then, at 1pm, it’s every blessed word, beginning with “Marley was dead: to begin with” and ending with “God Bless Us, Every One!” Those scheduled to read include Kurt Andersen, Jami Attenberg, Jack Davenport, Lev Grossman, Aryn Kyle, Ann Leary, Patrick McGrath, Eileen Myles, Elissa Schappell, Rob Spillman, Lorin Stein, Emma Straub, Peter Straub, Justin Taylor, Baratunde Thurston, Lynne Tillman, Amor Towles, Simon Van Booy and Lee Woodruff. Throughout the event, all books are 10 percent off. Free. Sat., Dec. 15, 1-4:30pm. At Housing Works Bookstore Café (126 Crosby St., btw. E. Houston & Prince Sts.). Visit housingworks.org or call 212-334-3324.

At Abrons Arts Center, “Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol” features Downtown theater legend Everett Quinton and four other performers who slip in and out of the story’s dozens of characters. Farrington, a former video designer for Wooster Group, mashes 35 different cinematic versions of “A Christmas Carol” with his live actors — blurring the distinction between performance and projection. Along the way, Quinton’s onstage Ebenezer shares miser duties with everyone from Mr. Magoo to George C. Scott to Bill Murray — all of whom have their own takes on Scrooge. God bless them, every one! At Abrons Arts Center (466 Grand St., at Pitt St.). Through Dec. 23. Tickets are $25, $15 for students/seniors. To purchase tickets and for a full schedule of performances, visit abronsartscenter.org or call 212-352-3101.

To celebrate their rapid rise after being impacted by Sandy, the Borough of Manhattan Community College and BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center is making their first post-hurricane production a FREE event. Suitable for ages five and up, this musical version of “A Christmas Carol” (produced in partnership with Theatreworks USA) hits all the familiar narrative marks, with an emphasis on the story’s most humorous and touching moments — with the addition of songs meant to convey “Dickens’ original message that the holiday season should be a kind, forgiving, charitable time.” Sat., Dec. 22, at 3pm. At BMCC Tribeca PAC (199 Chambers St, on the BMCC campus). Admission is free, but seating is limited. Ticket distribution, on the day of the show, begins at noon. For more info, call 212-220-1460.

Foul of mouth, fast of wit and green of hair, Hedda Lettuce is taking her holiday schtick out of the crisper for another installment of the annual December debacle known as “Lettuce Rejoice.” Armed with cutting observations, catty insults and just enough sweetness (and blackmail dirt) to make St. Nick’s “Nice” list, Ms. Lettuce will assault her willing audience with utterly tasteless versions of beloved classics — including “Here Comes Tranny Clause” (in which a sinister tranny ruins Xmas) and “Do You Hear What I Hear” reimagined as “Do You Think That He’s Queer” (about a fag hag desperately seeking a sexual relationship with a gay man). The talented pianist Paul Leschen accompanies our gal. Not content to limit herself to profane parodies, Lettuce mounts “a demented homage to the dearly departed Amy Winehouse” and favors one lucky comer with a basket full of Boy Butter Lubricantto. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Sun., Dec. 16 at 9:30pm; Wed., Dec. 19 at 7pm; Sat., Dec. 22 at 9:30pm; Sun., Dec. 23 at 4pm & 9:30pm and Wed., Dec. 26 at 9:30pm. At The Metropolitan Room (34 W. 22nd St., btw. Fifth & Sixth Aves.). For tickets ($22/$25), visit metropolitanroom.com or call 212-206-0440.

Chinese food, no. Movie? Yes. “Keeping up with the Steins” screens Dec. 25 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Photo courtesy of Miramax Films

It’s as Jewish as Chinese food and a movie on Christmas…except it has neither of those two wildly popular Chosen People activities. From 10am-4pm on December 25, the Museum of Jewish Heritage’s trailblazing, tradition-busting “Hava’n a Good Time” event welcomes visitors of all ages for a day of music, crafts and…film. Okay, yes, the 3:30pm screening of “Keeping Up with the Steins” counts as a Christmas Day movie. But honestly, there’s not a spring roll or a scallion pancake in sight! On the plate for sure, though: There will be a kid-friendly craft station where children can make mosaic-themed picture frames — and a 1pm concert by Metropolitan Klezmer. Since its first gig in 1994, this ensemble (led by drummer Eve Sicular) has specialized in performing a Yiddish repertoire influenced by world music, drinking songs, swing and tango. Tickets for the concert are $15, $12 for seniors and students, $10 for members. The day-long event itself is free, with museum admission ($12, $10 for seniors, $7 for students, free for members and children 12 and younger). For reservations to the concert and more info on all museum events, visit mjhnyc.org or call 646-437-4202. At Edmond J. Safra Plaza (36 Battery Place).

Eight can become one, according to new math as practiced by The New Shul.Downtown’s progressive synagogue has crunched the numbers, and come up with an elegant “Chanukiah Flashmob” equation. The purpose-driven, caffeine- fueled fun begins, appropriately enough, in front of your choice of eight Starbucks locations (from Broadway & Bond St., all the way to Union Square East). “Led by musicians bearing a branch of the light sculpture that will form our Chanukiah,” sosaith the Shul, “each group will sing and dance its way to Washington Square Park, where the light sculpture will be assembled. The celebration continues at Grace Church School with more music, dancing and holiday treats.” Free. On Sat., Dec. 15 at 4:30pm, meet in front of the Starbucks at the 8 Points of Light location of your choice (groups leave at 4:45pm sharp). For the meeting locations and more info, visit newshul.org.

This concert from the One World Symphony recalls how, after 14 years of struggling to continue the legacy of Beethoven, Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) cracked the symphonic code at the age of 43. Symphony No. 1 in C minor, op. 68 was the result. Artistic Director and Conductor Sung Jin Hong’s arrangement for voice and symphony features Mezzo Soprano Adrienne Metzinger. Net proceeds will benefit Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, and the post-concert wine reception features jazz by the Robert Page Jazz Trio. Wed., Dec. 19, at 8pm. At Holy Apostles Church (296 Ninth Ave., at W. 28th St.). Tickets ($20) are available at the door 20 minutes before start time. For info, visit oneworldsymphony.org.

A 1950s Christmas in an 1850s setting? It all makes sense, at the Merchant’s House Museum. Photo courtesy of the Merchant’s House Museum

From fond childhood memories to old flames back in town for the holidays, this season has plenty of Ghosts of Christmas Past — but at the Merchant’s House Museum, they’ve got the real thing. After decades of documented paranormal experiences by staff and visitors, “Manhattan’s Most Haunted House” has, as of late, embraced its haunted reputation.

Unfortunately, MHM’s late October Ghost Tours (a major source of income for the nonprofit entity) were cut short by Sandy. While they’re not playing up your chances of running into a ghost at any of their December events, it’s worth noting that last year, as workers were installing “From Candlelight to Bubble Light: A 1950s Christmas in an 1850s Home,” they heard snoring coming from the other room and were taken aback when the piece of furniture it seemed to emanate from was unoccupied by any living soul. The staff wasn’t surprised — the same spectral snoozer has been heard before, in that very location.

There’s no chance you’ll fall asleep, though, when touring the house in all of its “Bubble Light” splendor. Drawn from the vintage holiday collection of conceptual stylist and East Village art scene icon Deb O’Nair, this period mashup retro-decks the 19th century Merchant’s House halls (and family rooms and bedrooms and Greek Revival parlors) with hundreds of O’Nair’s post-1950s Christmas cards, ornaments, decorations, lit-from-within plastic holiday icons, Lefton “Holly” china and vintage holiday cooking paraphernalia. Though potentially jarring, the net effect of combining these seemingly disparate eras simply makes one nostalgic for two distinct periods of the past while pondering how one hand washes the other (“The holiday innovations of the 1850s,” MHM points out, “created and inspired the traditions of the 1950s”). “From Candlelight to Bubble Light: A 1950s Christmas in an 1850s Home” is on display through Jan. 7, noon to 5pm, Thurs. -Mon. Free with museum admission ($10, $5 for students/seniors). At the Merchant’s House Museum, 29 East Fourth St. (btw. Lafayette & Bowery). Find a full schedule of events by visiting merchantshouse.org or calling 212-777-1089.

“Why does everyone go crazy at Christmastime?” That’s the elusive question posed by Mark Finley’s “Christmas Moon.” What answers he’ll provide isn’t exactly clear — but the playwright does hint it might have something to do with temporary insanity, an ancient pagan curse or the mysterious machinations of the titular spherical object. This radio play for the stage is being presented the Robert Chesley/Jane Chambers Playwrights Reading series, which itself is presented by TOSOS — The Other Side of Silence (a modern incarnation of the pioneering theater company founded in 1974 by Doric Wilson, and revived in 2002 by Wilson, Finley and Barry Childs). The reading takes place at 8pm on Sun., Dec. 16 — right after the TOSOS holiday party, which begins at 7pm. You’re invited to both free events. At the TADA! Theater (15 W. 28th St., 2nd floor, btw. Broadway & Fifth Ave.). For more info, visit tosos2.org.

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