We could call it KwaanaRamaHanuMas. Or just the holidays. This time of year casts a bright, if cold, light on the many traditions that converge in America.
This multi-culturally sensitive, have-to-please-the-family, religiously radioactive material bursts chaotically into the mad dash, excessive shopping sprees and tightly-buttoned-to-the-neck shirts, gut-busting buffets or stuffing a massive Douglas Fir into the trunk of your Honda Civic. These things are time trial races and affectations that keep our eyes off the meaning — if there is any such holy grail to be found — of the holidays.
We won’t try to define that meaning for you or argue that it really exists. Instead, what you’ll read next is a toolbox through which you can build your own meaning and tradition. If nothing else, it’s a list of good excuses to help you take a break from whatever it is you’re told you’re supposed to be doing.
The real Festival of Lights is Hanukah — the celebration of the oil lamps that didn’t run dry. The Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights pales religiously, but shines on with all the cheery sweetness of the secular aspects to the season. Tens of thousands of lights, sculpted into reindeer, candy canes and more make the event one of the city’s musts for a dim December night. Zoo admission fees apply. 5-9 p.m. Nov. 27-Jan. 3. Cincinnati Zoo, 3400 Vine St., Avondale, 513-281-4700.
Getting into a food line at Our Daily Bread with people who might have nowhere to go on Christmas is a humbling experience. It’s one that can make you a better person, too. Stay a little while and you might discover that the food is better than you’d imagine and the people are more than the two-dimensional characters painted by the media. Free. 9:45-11:45 a.m. weekdays. Our Daily Bread, 1730 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-621-6364.
Experience Toys Through Time at the John A. Ruthven Exhibition Gallery at Union Terminal. It’s a show of vintage toys, games and dolls that date back to the 19th century.
Free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. Cincinnati Museum Center, 1301 Western Ave., Queensgate, 513-287-7000.
Explore two different holiday-themed indoor trails: A Christmas Carol andJourney to the North Pole. Appropriate for the youngest children, the walk-through exhibits are filled with candy canes, Christmas characters and Santa himself. The massive model train exhibit has a separate admission charge and is worth a visit as well. $10; children 2 and younger are free. EnterTrainment Junction, 7379 Squire Court, West Chester, 513-898-8000.
A child’s imagination comes to life with the Cincinnati Ballet’s Nutcracker Suite. It’s an annual treat and something you should experience at least once. The Cincinnati Ballet’s performance is legendary. $30. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18; other times Dec. 17-20, 22, 23, 26 and 27. Aronoff Center for the Arts, Seventh and Walnut streets, Downtown, 513-621-ARTS.
Glide over Fountain Square’s ice rink at Skyline’s Santa Skates. It’s always icy in the rink and Santa makes an appearance during the skate-in. $2.50 to skate and $2.50 for skate rental. Food from Skyline available for purchase. 11 a.m.-noon Saturdays and noon-1 p.m. Sundays Nov. 28-29, Dec. 5, 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20. Fountain Square, Fifth and Vine streets, Downtown.
Your child (or maybe you’re the child) can enjoy a one-hour train tide with Santa at the Lebanon Mason Monroe (LM&M) Railroad’s North Pole Express. Hot chocolate, elves and the jolly old elf himself. All aboard! $20; $15 ages 2-12. 10 a.m., noon, 2 and 4 p.m. Nov. 28 and 29; Dec. 6, 12, 13, 19 and 20. Call ahead for tickets. 127 S. Mechanic St., Lebanon, 513-933-8022.
The Cincinnati Nature Center’s Winter Solstice Celebration brings some of the holiday season’s oldest roots to life with a drumming circle, interpretive discussion and music by the Celtic act Dark Moll. The shortest day of the year has religious significance worldwide as part of the birth-death-rebirth cycle in nature. Members $5, member children $1, non-member adult $10, non-member child $2. 1-5 p.m. Rowe Woods, 4949 Tealtown Road, Milford, 513-831-1711.
Just say no to Santa in the mall. Was it ever more sold out than that? Sharon Woods offers a terrific alternative, the Holiday in Lights and Indoor Santaland. In the Sharon Centre, kids meet with a Santa (real beard and all) and can have their picture snapped for $5. Ebeneezer Scrooge puppet, a train display, carolers and sugary delights are also on display. Admission to the Sharon Centre’s Santaland is free. The drive through Holiday in Lights is $12 per car. Parking fee applies. 6-9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. 6-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Nov. 27-Dec. 23. Sharon Woods, 11450 Lebanon Road, Sharonville, 513-521-PARK.
The Cincinnati Playhouse presents A Christmas Carol, the transformation of Scrooge into a saint.
It might even work its magic on the humbug sitting next to you. Ages 5 and up. $20-$51. 2 and 7 p.m. Dec. 23 and other times Dec 3-30. Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 962 Mount Adams Circle, Mount Adams, 513-421-3888.
The chairman of the board, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, who is close to retirement, might not preside over the traditional Midnight Mass, but it’s still quite an experience. The choir’s song resonates through the massive stone cathedral and the mass is conducted among hundreds of candles, poinsettias and a generous helping of Roman Catholic mysticism. Free. Carols start at 11:30 p.m. and mass follows. St. Peter in Chains Cathedral, 325 W. Eighth St., Downtown, 513-421-5354.
The Krohn Conservatory’s Winter Floral Show: A Swedish Holiday is practically a trip to the tropics when compared with the arid winter outside. The thick, wet air and the fantastically colorful collection of flora from around the world is just the backdrop to the splendid presentation of amaryllis, cyclamen and poinsettias. Free. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 25; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 19-30 except Christmas Day. Krohn Conservatory, 1501 Eden Park Dr., Eden Park, 513-421-5707.