There is no time of the year in downtown San Jose quite like the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's.
For the better part of a month, downtown is all aglow in holiday lights, with thousands of people pouring in to check out Christmas in the Park and the Downtown Ice rink. They come for holiday plays performed by local theater companies, concerts featuring a variety of musical genres and, of course, Ballet San Jose's version of "The Nutcracker."
It's truly a most wonderful time of the year. Some of the big-ticket events -- "Nutcracker," San Jose Rep's "A Christmas Carol," Children's Musical Theater of San Jose's "Les Miserables" -- are the subjects of stories elsewhere in this week's Eye. But here's what else is happening this season:
It wouldn't be the holidays in downtown San Jose without Christmas in the Park, which fills Plaza de Cesar Chavez with lights, Christmas trees, holiday music and animated elves every year through New Year's Day. It's great retro fun, plus you can check out Winter Wonderland, the assemblage of amusement rides and attractions, including a 60-foot Ferris wheel that sprawls through downtown. For more information, visit www.christmasinthepark.com.
Downtown Ice -- the outdoor rink between the Fairmont Hotel and San Jose Museum of Art -- has become a focal point of downtown during the holidays. This year, the venue (particularly cool at night) is already up and running. Admission to the rink, which will stay open until Jan. 13, is $13-$15 (including skates and ice time). For more information, visit www.sjdowntown.com/downtownice.
Symphony Silicon Valley is celebrating the season with two programs at the California Theatre over the holidays. On Dec. 1-2, pianist Peter Serkin will join the symphony for Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 with George Cleve conducting ($38-$78). Then on Dec. 8, it's the annual "Carols in the California" program with the Symphony Silicon Valley Chorale and conductor Elena Sharkova ($35). For information and tickets for both shows, visit http://www.symphonysiliconvalley.org.
Also on the holiday schedule at the California: The San Jose Symphony's afternoon show on Dec. 1 with ace pianist Taylor Eigsti ($5-$15, http://sjys.org) and the Dec. 5 "You-Sing-It-Messiah" with the San Jose Symphonic Choir and the Mission Chamber Orchestra. Tickets are $15-$20 (www.ticketmaster.com), and the Vivace Youth Chorus of San Jose will sing songs of the season in the lobby before the show.
Things are a bit skimpy this season compared to previous years. Not only has the NHL lockout left the Shark Tank (aka HP Pavilion) devoid of any Sharks games, but there is just one concert scheduled through the end of the year: Barry Manilow on Dec. 6. Tickets are $9.99-$175, www.ticketmaster.com.
But the end of the month does bring in a reportedly quite spectacular live version of the film "How to Train Your Dragon" which will run for 10 shows Dec. 26-30. Tickets are $31-$102.50, www.ticketmaster.com.
Meanwhile, at the San Jose Civic Auditorium, the offerings are a potent double bill of Tower of Power and War on Dec. 8 ($55.50-$65.50) and "The Legend of Zelda" Symphony of the Goddesses, with music from Nintendo's "Legend of Zelda" games ($60-$115) on Dec. 14. Tickets for all shows can be bought through www.ticketmaster.com.
And if you're looking for some free music, check out the schedule of San Jose Jazz (www.sanjosejazz.org). It's got some nice shows over the holidays, including jazz jams at the Hedley Club in the Hotel De Anza (233 W. Santa Clara St.) on Dec. 5 and Dec. 19, and a High School All Stars Christmas program (Dec. 21) and a show with Ben Flocks, who generated lots of buzz at this summer's festival, on Dec. 28 at the San Pedro Square Market (87 N. San Pedro St.)
In addition to the Rep's "Christmas Carol" and "Les Miz" at the Montgomery, two other downtown theater companies are offering up some holiday goodies.
City Lights Theater Company's "Christmas Shorts" is a series of short holiday-related plays by playwright Matt Hoverman. The show runs at City Lights (528 S. Second St.) through Dec. 23, and tickets are $16.95-$29.95 (http://cltc.org). The San Jose Stage Company (480 S. First St.) has "Reckless," playwright Craig Lucas' surreal comedy set, in part, on Christmas Eve. Tickets for the show, which runs through Dec. 16, are $20-$45 (www.thestage.org).
As has become a holiday tradition, Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph will offer a series of free concerts -- called "Season of Hope" -- Dec. 12-23. It starts with the San Jose Youth Symphony on Dec. 12 and ends with the Harpers Hall Celtic Harpists on Dec. 23. All performances start at 7:30 p.m., and you can't beat the price -- or the setting. Visit www.stjosephcathedral.org for more details and a complete schedule.
The visual arts
It's always a good idea to consider a visit to the Tech Museum or the Children's Discovery Museum if you're downtown with the kids during the holidays. But for something a little quieter, try the marvelous "Dive Deep: Eric Fischl and the Process of Painting," an in-depth look at one of the most influential artists of our time, at the San Jose Museum of Art (110 S. Market St.). Admission is $5-$8 for nonmembers, www.sjmusart.org.
And you should also check out two new shows at the San Jose Museum of Contemporary Art (560 S. First St.). "Amy Kaufman: b+w," an exhibit of large-scale charcoal drawings on paper, and "Charles Ginnever: Rashomon" is a 15-piece installation of 3-foot high steel sculptures by the artist that has never been presented in California. It's free; visit www.sjica.org.
Follow Charlie McCollum at Twitter.com/charlie_mccollu.