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30 Ways to Get Into the Spirit

From neighborhood strolls to seasonal concerts to live reindeer on the Avenue, when it comes to holiday time, there's no place like home

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Music in the Air

Choral Society Christmas Concert
Celebrating its ninetieth season, the Choral Society will present “A Christmas Tapestry” in December. Music Director Paul Mueller describes this year’s concert: “‘A Christmas Tapestry’ features Benjamin Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, along with Geoffrey Bush’s hauntingly beautiful ‘In Praise of Mary.’ For Britten’s cantata, three boy sopranos and the Christ Church Singers will join the Choral Society for a piece that presents a bold portrait of the saint’s character as a protector of the poor and oppressed. Geoffrey Bush created contemporary settings of medieval English carols that capture the awe and reverence of Christmas. The concert will include traditional carols and opportunities for audience participation, and is a wonderful way to usher in this glorious season.”
Dates & Times: December 7, 4:30 p.m.; December 8, 2:30 and 5 p.m.
Place: Christ Church, 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information and tickets: 203-622-5136, greenwichchoralsociety.org; $23 to $38

First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, Messiah
This will be the second annual Messiah here. Randall Atcheson, minister of music, has been conducting the Messiah in the area for twenty-seven years, so it’s certainly a longstanding personal tradition. He conducts the choir, soloists and chamber orchestra, while also accompanying on the organ. “Listening to Handel’s Messiah is comfort food for the soul,” says Atcheson, who has performed eleven solo concerts at Carnegie Hall. “Audiences love it because it is familiar and traditional. The Messiah helps one focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Our Messiah is known for being highly spirited with the world’s fastest tempos.”
Date & Time: December 15, 4 p.m.
Place: 1 West Putnam Avenue
Information: fpcg.org

A Caroler’s Christmas at St. Barnabas Church
More than your typical Christmas concert, the St. Barnabas Choir and Music Director J. Michael Roush engage in costuming, choreography and audience participation. “Each year is fresh and I think exciting,” says Roush. There is even an element of suspense for the choir, as Roush saves a surprise each year for the singers. The concert includes carols drawn from various backgrounds. Roush comments: “As we know, the lovely traditions that we think of as an ‘American Christmas’ have actually come from other cultures and countries.”
Date & Time: December 15, 5 p.m.
Place: 954 Lake Avenue
Information: 203-661-5526, stbarnabasgreenwich.org

Rob Mathes Christmas Concert
Legendary musician Rob Mathes, an Old Greenwich native, kicked off this annual tradition twenty years ago. His first Christmas concert in 1993 was the subject of the documentary I Want to Hear the Bells and another PBS-TV special, Christmas Is Coming: Rob Mathes and Friends. “The Christmas Concert is the centerpiece of my year every year,” comments Mathes. “I come home from my madness working with whoever it may be, the Kennedy Center Honors, Sting or Bruce Springsteen (I’m so grateful for those gigs), and I get to make music with my friends and family, some of whom happen to be the best musicians on the planet, including Will Lee on bass and a horn section to die for…It is because of the audience’s enthusiasm that we are able to have so much joy playing this music, which is a particular blend of searching originals and vibed-out groove versions of classics. Being able to put the concerts on is the community’s gift to me and it is both moving and humbling. I hope to do the concert until my dying day.” Musicians from the recent Rolling Stones tour as well as Aretha Franklin and James Brown’s band will be playing with Mathes at the twentieth anniversary concert. Among his many projects, Mathes recently co-produced Sting’s album, “The Last Ship,” and is the music supervisor and orchestrator for the upcoming Broadway show of the same name. His Christmas concerts will benefit the nonprofit Through the Eyes of Children: The Rwanda Project, a cause that is close to Rob Mathes’ heart.
Dates & Times: December 20 and 21, 8 p.m.
Place: The Performing Arts Center at SUNY Purchase, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase, New York
Information & tickets: 914-251-6200 (box office), 203-698-0444 (The Music Source), artscenter.org, themusicsource.org; $40 to $75

First Congregational Church Messiah
This performance, in its forty-seventh year, combines the talent of a twenty-piece professional orchestra, professional soloists and a community chorus of 100 singers. “Many of our singers and instrumentalists have been participating in our Messiah concerts since they began in 1966,” says Director of Music Craig Scott Symons. “Having such a long history makes our Messiah very special. Over the years, Messiah performances have gone in and out of fashion with conductors, but First Church continues to present this holiday tradition as an outreach and gift to the community because we realize it is important to performer and audience alike.”
Dates & Times: December 14 and 15, 4 p.m.
Place: 108 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich
Information: 203-637-1791, fccog.org

Carols by Candlelight at Christ Church
Since its founding almost eighty years ago, the choir has carried on this tradition, which was first introduced in 1918 at King’s College Chapel at Cambridge and broadcast live by the BBC staring in 1928. (So cherished was the concert that it went on even during World War II, in the chapel that had neither glass in the windows nor heat.) Jamie Hitel, director of music and a Cambridge alum, says, “This unique celebration of Christmas, in which choirs and congregation re-create the birth of Jesus, is one of the jewels in the crown of our Anglican musical heritage. To hear children’s voices proclaim the incarnation through music is particularly poignant and moving.” Music for 2013 includes traditional carols and a new setting of “In Dulci Jubilo” by Philip Moore, Visiting Artist at Christ Church and Organist Emeritus of York Minster. The service is followed by a festive reception.
Date & Time: December 22, 5 p.m. (bell prelude at 4:30 p.m.)
Place: 254 East Putnam Avenue
Information: christchurchmusic.com, 203-869-6600

Staged Fun

Town Production
For two decades, the town of Greenwich has presented an annual children’s Christmas show. The Hampstead Stage Company will share the message of the true meaning of Christmas again this year with the Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. “The children and parents love it,” comments Frank Gabriele, recreation supervisor. “The children get to ask questions after the show is over, and the actors show them how they make the play happen.” The play is recommended for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, and some may be chosen to participate.
Date & Time: December 5, 4 to 5 p.m.
Place: Bendheim Western Civic Center, 449 Pemberwick Road
Information & tickets: $5 at the Civic Center or greenwichct.org

“Bully! For the Three Wee Pigs” at the Historical Society   
In one of the Historical Society’s most beloved family holiday events, No Strings Marionette Company presents a modern version of “The Three Little Pigs.” A talented singer, a prolific painter and an industrious architect must figure out how to deal with the nonstop taunting of a bully in this “hilarious romp through an opera stage, an artist’s studio and the problem-solving mind of a designer of buildings.” Craft activities and refreshments will be available between performances.
Dates & Times: December 8 at 2, 4 and 6 p.m.
Place: Greenwich Historical Society, Vanderbilt Education Center, 39 Strickland Road, Cos Cob
Information & tickets: 203-869-6899, ext. 10, greenwichhistory.org; members $10, nonmembers $15; reservations strongly suggested as space is limited

Audubon Festivities

Annual Bird Count
In the past century, this tradition has evolved from an event in which birds were tallied by shooting them to one in which a database is compiled by counting. It is crucial to protecting wildlife and their habitats. Patterns in bird populations can help us identify environmental issues that affect human beings as well. The new center director for Audubon Greenwich, Dr. Michelle Frankel, comments, “The Christmas Bird Count is a great way to have fun outdoors while helping scientists collect vital information about birds that guides our conservation strategies. And because it’s something that families and students can become involved in, it’s a great way to inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

The Christmas Bird Count is one of the largest bird surveys in the country. Last year, 102 species were counted in this area, less than the average 112 of recent years. Audubon naturalist Ted Gilman notes, “The rainy day made for poor flying conditions, so the birds were harder to spot.” Participants can join a field team or just observe their backyard feeders. Different shifts accommodate both early birds and night owls.
Date: December 15, from midnight to midnight
Information: 203-869-5272, greenwich.audubon.org

Reindeer Games

Greenwich Reindeer Festival and Santa’s Workshop
The day after Thanksgiving, Santa and his live reindeer arrive in downtown Greenwich to kick off this fun four-week event. For the fifth year, Santa will relocate from the North Pole and set up his workshop at McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center. Despite being a very busy guy this time of year, Santa kindly will make himself available for photos every day until Christmas. Individuals, families and even pets are invited to pose and get a gift bag of coupons for local stores along with their photo package. Bring the kids to watch Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Blitzen enjoy feedings twice daily.
Dates & Times: November 29 to December 24. Feedings: 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Photos: Monday to Friday, noon to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Place: McArdle’s Florist & Garden Center, 48 Arch Street
Information: 203-531-3047, greenwichreindeer-festival.com

Greenwich Holiday Stroll Weekend
Greenwich magazine is pleased to sponsor the fifth annual Greenwich Holiday Stroll Weekend. Come enjoy live music, specialty foods and refreshments, not to mention free parking on Saturday courtesy of the town and Greenwich magazine. One hundred stores participate, helping to make holiday shopping a joyous affair. There also will be an ice sculpture competition, horse-drawn carriage rides, bouncy castles, and music broadcast throughout downtown. “It’s a weekend to shop, dine and be merry!” comments event coordinator Tamara Kettler.
Dates & Times: December 7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; December 8, noon to 5 p.m.
Place: Downtown Greenwich   
Information: 203-531-3047, greenwichreindeerfestival.com/holiday-stroll.php