It’s the most wonderful time of the year—so get out of the best department stores in Boston and start enjoying the best Boston Christmas events (they only come once a year, after all). Celebrate the season with our top picks of the festive shows, concerts, plus the best ice-skating rinks in Boston and the silliest spectacle you’re likely to see this season. If you haven’t finished your Christmas shopping, fear not—you can always pick up a unique gift at one of the top holiday markets in Boston.
RECOMMENDED: See the full Christmas in Boston guide
Christmas events in Boston
Santa Speedo Run
Prep that Valencia filter—the Santa Speedo Run is the Instagram event of the season. Up to 700 scantily clad, red hat–topped participants jog a mile through the freezing streets of Back Bay in the name of both nervous giggles and charity. (The event raises money for Play Ball Foundation, which funds sports in Boston-area middle schools; more than $1.6 million have been raised since the event began in 2000). Anyone with a Euro-style suit (no thongs allowed), a commitment to raise $400 in donations and a lot of gumption can participate; thankfully, a little liquid courage helps kick off the proceedings. Corner of Boylston and Gloucester Sts, Back Bay. Dec 10, 1pm; free for spectators.
If you have fond childhood memories of getting gussied up for a Nutcracker matinee during the holidays, it’s time to pass the tradition on to the next generation. Boston Ballet’s critically acclaimed, live-orchestra production was rebooted in 2012 by artistic director Mikko Nissinen with opulent Georgian–era sets and costumes. But even if you’re not a parent, aunt or uncle, let’s be honest: The classic ballet is an unabashed pleasure for grown-ups, dancing candy canes, toy soldiers and all. Through Dec 31. $55–$199.
Another venerated holiday tradition: Langston Hughes’ song-play retelling of the Nativity story. Produced by the National Center of Afro-American Artists, the piece combines scripture, verse, music, dance and, of course, Hughes’ poetry. The annual Boston staging, currently at downtown’s restored Art Deco gem the Paramount Center, is the longest-running production of the piece in the world. Dec 2–18; $35–$47.50.
You sort of can’t not go to this. Keith Lockhart leads his symphony troops in spirited performances of classic holiday fare and new arrangements; the kid-friendly matinees also include singalongs and post-concert photos with Santa. If you procrastinate until after Christmas, hang onto your flux capacitor: several post-holiday performances are actually orchestral accompaniments to a screening of Back to the Future. But, whatever you do, don’t pay full price: The Mayor’s Holiday Special lets you purchase tickets for half-off. Through Dec 31; $32–$143.
Beacon Hill Holiday Stroll
The 11th annual stroll in Boston's most picturesque neighborhood invites you to play Brahmin for an evening. Charles Street will be closed off to traffic so that shoppers can travel in 19th-century style—i.e., via horse and buggy. Seek out singular gifts in the area’s classic antique shops before hitting up the Hill's more of-the-moment shops for home goods (Good), jewelry and home accessories (December Thieves), clothing (Crush Boutique) and organic skin care (Follain). And those seeking sustenance afterward, take note: Beacon Hill restaurants are known to be extra-generous with their wine pours during the stroll. Dec 8; 6pm–9pm.
Christmas Celtic Sojourn
It’s live holiday music unlike any other you’ll hear this season. Drawing on Pagan, Christian and Celtic musical traditions, the show is an eclectic blend of accordion, harp, bass and cello performances. Then there’s the dancing—count on Irish step, and lots of it. But perhaps the greatest part of the show is that you never quite know what you’re going to get; director Paula Plum always insists on slipping in a surprise or two. Dec 9-21; $25-$85.Photograph: Niko Alexandrou
It’s the Nutcracker retold in Boston. Local dancing legend Tony Williams has reappropriated the Christmas classic; instead of the pine forest and Land of Sweets, heroine Clarice (not Clara) explores our own city sights, including the Public Garden and Chinatown. More than 150 performers join her onstage throughout the production, which incorporates music from Duke Ellington and dance moves like tap and hip hop. In other words: it’s not your mother’s Nutcracker.
Photograph: Peter Paradise Michaels