The span between Thanksgiving and New Year is indeed a busy one, but there’s a reason it’s called the most wonderful time of the year. Here are a few ways to get into the holiday spirit in San Francisco. The Walt Disney Family Museum’s Home for the Holidays at Carolwood A seasonal installation celebrating Walt Disney’s family and affection for trains, Home for the Holidays at Carolwood, is an immersive exhibit that includes an elaborate, three-dimensional model of the Disney home on Carolwood Drive and features Disney’s personal steam locomotive, the Lilly Belle, chugging along the tracks. Along with family keepsakes and works by Disney artists, the exhibition also includes screenings of Christmas with Walt Disney in December. Nov. 9-Jan. 9. Embarcadero Center Lighting Ceremony & Carnival There’s no shortage of light displays and illumination events throughout the city, and one special spot to watch the flipping of the switch is Embarcadero Center on Friday, Nov. 17. The festivities kick off with a carnival and Disney On Ice performance, and then it’s time to count down to the illumination of four buildings with 17,000 holiday lights, followed up by a grand fireworks show. The Great Dickens Christmas Fair From waltzing royals to scrappy chimney-sweeps, 800 Victorian characters will populate over three acres of twilight-lit shops, pubs, stages and dance halls at the Cow Palace. This season’s event will debut an expansive new children’s area, new juried crafts, and the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta Trial by Jury – the perfect setting to revel in the joy of the season. Nov. 18-Dec. 17 (weekends and Friday after Thanksgiving). San Francisco SPCA and Macy's More than 250 animals are adopted each year when Macy’s Union Square partners with the San Francisco SPCA from Nov. 17-Jan. 1; now in its third decade, almost 9,000 animals have been adopted through the program. Placed within elaborate window displays the cats and dogs are always a holiday favorite. San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus Holiday Program Embrace the delights of the season with beautiful music and a jubilant production during performances at Nourse Theater on Friday, Dec. 8 and Saturday, Dec. 9. To mark the 40th season of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, the program will showcase a mix of favorite pieces from the last four decades and dazzling new elements. Additionally, the 28th annual Home for the Holidays event is a can’t-miss Christmas Eve spectacular at the Castro Theatre. San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker Ever since the Nutcracker made its American debut on Christmas Eve in 1944 at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, it’s been a beloved holiday tradition. Watch as visions of Sugar Plums — the fairy variety, that is — dance before your eyes when this world-class ballet takes the stage Dec. 13–30. Kung Pao Kosher Comedy A combination of Jewish comedy and Chinese food gets you the ultimate alternative Jewish Christmas event, which also happens to be the city’s longest-running comedy show, now in its 25th year. New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown is the site of this yearly laugh-fest, with the option to choose between a multi-course, family-style dinner or a cocktail show on Dec. 23, 24 and 25. A Christmas Carol at the American Conservatory Theater The stunning costumes and musical interludes of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale will have any Ebenezer Scrooge checking their ‘bah, humbugs’ at the door. From Dec. 1–24, this festive staging brings the Yuletide magic to the A.C.T.’s Geary Theater. Beach Blanket Babylon’s Holiday Extravaganza Filled with pop-culture spoofs, over-the-top outfits and political characters, this musical revue at North Beach’s Club Fugazi is always a hilarious occasion, but a series of seasonal performances kicks things up a notch to dazzle holiday revelers — complete with carol parodies, tap-dancing Christmas trees and other spirited displays. San Francisco Symphony’s Holiday Programming Throughout December, Holidays with the Symphony offers something on the calendar for everyone. Whether it’s the virtuosity of the Holiday Brass concert on Sunday Dec. 3, Mexican Christmas traditions with A Merri-achi Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 10 or the family-pleasing live version of A Charlie Brown Christmas on Thursday, Dec. 21 through Sunday, Dec. 24, you’ll be left feeling merry and bright. "Tis the Season for Science” at the California Academy of Sciences One of the largest natural history museums in the world transforms into a winter wonderland from late November to early January, with an interactive exhibit featuring indoor snow flurries, caroling, visiting reindeer, live performances and science-y topics like reindeer adaptation and the northern lights. Hotels with the Best Gingerbread Houses Some of the city’s finest places to stay pull out all the stops to build these magnificent creations. The Fairmont San Francisco unveils its masterpiece each year in late November; the two-story house, made from thousands of gingerbricks and gallons of icing, even has seating for afternoon tea. Not to be outdone, the Westin St. Francis reveals its sugary, storybook castle around the same time. Another multi-story achievement occupies the main lobby of the San Francisco Marriott Marquis, and if you stop by at the right time, you might even get to judge the gingerbread house competition.
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