Hosting some out-of-towners over the holidays? Here’s a tip: Get out and do an activity. Otherwise, well… otherwise that Holiday Cheer (TM) could turn into you needing a holiday beer.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a holiday beer, just not as a palliative for awkwardness, political rows, or too much small talk.
So, in the spirit of avoiding all that with an activity, here are your best bets:
You’ve probably seen it a dozen times before, but if you haven’t seen the Cincinnati Ballet’s production, choreographed by Victoria Morgan, you haven’t gotten the full effect. This thing is incredible, with sumptuous visuals and stirring music. Better yet, it’s back at Music Hall for the first time in 11 years. So you can impress those out-of-towners with the most beautiful building in the country. (Don’t @ me.)
December 14-24 at Music Hall
KROHN FOR THE HOLIDAYS
The Krohn Conservatory is a gem all year long, but it really shines during its Choo Choo Holiday show. The show features poinsettias and a slew of other plants I can’t spell and you won’t remember, though the highlight is a train track that weaves through botanical architecture and Cincinnati iconography. Beautiful, sensory, and immersive, this show is a great way to spend an afternoon before a holiday dinner.
November 18 - January 7 at Krohn Conservatory
HOLIDAY JUNCTION (ft. BRICKOPOLIS)
Cincinnati’s favorite holiday activity is the trains at the Museum Center at Union Terminal. Alas that, too, is undergoing a facelift, and therefore a portion of the beloved junction will be temporarily closed. But the rest of it still covers 12,000 square feet of special exhibition space and features fan favorites like Thomas the Tank Engine. Also included this year are LEGO creations like motorized trains, whimsical holiday scenes, and a few surprises we won’t tell you about. Don’t miss out on the CMC’s holiday programming either, which you can learn about here.
Runs through January 1 at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal
A CHRISTMAS CAROL
“Humbug!” Yeah, well if you didn’t have indoor heating I’m guessing you wouldn’t be too jolly either. Regardless, A Christmas Carol at the Playhouse combines faithful storytelling with imaginative stage direction and really, really good costumes to bring the classic tale to life. Yes, getting tickets will be difficult. But if you can swing it, it’s among the best ways to spend an evening (or a matinee) this holiday season. And it’s kid-friendly too!
December 15-30 at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park
EVERY CHRISTMAS STORY EVER TOLD (AND THEN SOME!)
This one, however, is not. At least if your kids still believe in Santa. Because Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s production of (breath) Every Christmas Ever Told (And Then Some!) is irreverent and uproarious with pop-culture references and even a tipsy Mr. Claus himself. It’s fresh, it’s different, and it’s incredibly funny.
December 21-31 at The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
BOCA’S HOLIDAY GOURMAND
Take a break from all those stage performances and let the cast and crew of Boca Restaurant put on a performance of their own. They’re open for lunch on select days in December, with a special holiday menu featuring, well, we actually don’t know yet. But last year specials included wine-braised short ribs, a warm chocolate torte, and, of course, pomme soufflées.
December 18-22 at Boca Restaurant
Winterfest is finally back at Kings Island. Not that I noticed it was gone, but then I’m one of those infernal Millennials, and Winterfest came to an end in 1992. But you don’t need nostalgia to be impressed. Winterfest is plenty impressive on its own, with roving carolers, an enormous skating rink, an Eiffel Tower-turned-Christmas tree, 17 operational rides, and five million Christmas lights.
Select nights through December 30 at Kings Island
FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
You know the drill on this one. You’ve been a thousand times already. And you keep going back because it’s the seminal Christmas light show in Cincinnati. Well, there are a few changes this year, including a light wall displaying classical holiday movie clips, life-sized animal lanterns, and new exhibits like Gorilla World. But the old favorites are here too—the Swan Lake light show, the North Pole village, and the Toyland Express train ride. All of which is best enjoyed with a cup of that delicious spiced cider.
November 18 - January 1 at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden
WASHINGTON PARK, AND BEYOND
I’ll keep this short, because this one is a bit, well, self-evident. First, head to Washington Park on a Saturday in December to see Santa Claus and his elves making gifts, ornaments, and other fun things. Then gambol, lark, and cavort your way around OTR’s boutiques, alleyways, and restaurants. It’s like when you used to go Christmas shopping at the mall with the fam, but this is much cooler.
Santa will be at Washington Park Saturdays in December from 1-3 p.m.
This is “bonus” both because I’m not counting it against the nine activities above and also because it doesn’t happen until after Christmas is over, when everything seems a bit gloomier than before. Luckily, nothing is so curative of wintry blues as blokes in hockey pads bashing into each other on ice. Yes, it’s a Cyclones game, on December 27, for dollar beer night. Make it a last hurrah before your out-of-towners leave. Or, if they’ve already left, let it occasion your rejoicing.