Three holiday traditions to add to your do-to list: Scrooge, Messiah and Kwanzaa

Charles Dickens' perennial classic tale of redemption takes to the stage at the NAC, Handel's Messiah is rescued by Thirteen Strings, and Kwanzaa celebrates African and Caribbean culture.

Sandra Abma has been making her entertainment list — and checking it twice

Lots of traditional — and some not-so-traditional — fare on Sandra Abma's holiday weekend list. (Shutterstock/RTimages)

Ready or not, it's the last weekend before Christmas, and whether it's watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or munching on gingerbread, there are some enduring traditions that just make Christmas, well, Christmas.

This weekend sees two perennial classics come to the capital that, for many, are essential ingredients in the holiday smorgasbord, as well as a secular, more recent tradition that involves music, dance and good food. 

A scene from 'A Christmas Carol' at NAC starring Andy Jones as Scrooge 0:28

Poor, misunderstood Scrooge

​Tiny Tim, the ghosts of past, present and future, and the old humbug himself are back in town, in a brand new production of Charles Dickens' classic tale of redemption, A Christmas Carol.  East Coast comedian and children's author Andy Jones interprets the role of the curmudgeonly miser as a more sympathetic product of an unhappy childhood, whose inner wounds conceal a gentle heart.

"My interpretation of Scrooge is that he has come from a very unfortunate background," said Jones. "I mean, he was rejected as a child."

And he thinks he knows why it is such a beloved story.

"There is that thought that you can change," said Jones. "You can get rid of your old neurosis, you can get rid of your old obsessions, you can be substantially different in the world."

NAC Theatre Artistic Director Jillian Keilly is known for her inventive retelling of well worn tales: expect music, imagination, surprises and performances from local actors and school children.

WHEN: A Christmas Carol runs until Dec. 31

WHERE: National Arts Centre Theatre

COST:  Tickets start at $32, and are available here. There are day-of-show rush tickets for $15 available to those between ages 13-29.

Soprano Jennifer Taverner rehearses with Thirteen Strings 0:36

'It's not Christmas unless we have a Messiah!'

When the ongoing construction at the National Arts Centre led to the cancellation of its annual presentation of Handel's Messiah, local chamber orchestra Thirteen Strings stepped in to fill the gap — and lovers of that Christmas ritual sang, "Hallelujah!"

Thirteen Strings director Kevin Mallon recounts  being approached by a grateful fan when he was making photocopies for the concert.

"Somebody said to me, 'Oh you're doing Messiah! That's marvelous, because its not Christmas unless we have a Messiah!" recalled Mallon. 

Thirteen Strings will present the Messiah in all its glory: soloists, chorus, musicians and harpsichord, in a performance inspired by how the music was first heard at its premiere in Dublin in April of 1742.


Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church, 20 Lisgar St.

Sunday at 7:30 p.m. at Dominion Chambers United Church, 355 Cooper St.

COST: Tickets run from $10 to $75, and they're available at the Thirteen Strings web site.

Jaku Conbit President Kenneth Campbell with Yamikani Msosa, the keynote speaker at Sunday's Kwanzaa celebration. (Sandra Abma/CBC)

One big Kwanzaa party

Kwanzaa is a more recent tradition. Originating in the 1960s, it's a secular festival celebrating the roots and traditions of Africa and the Caribbean in food, dance, music and community. It's typically a week of festivities, but Ottawa organizers have rolled it all up into one party taking place this Sunday.

"It's going to be a wonderful, festive atmosphere," said organizer Kenneth Campbell.

"You will see beautiful colours, people dressed in wonderful African garments.You will hear incredible music, we have wonderful African drummers, and children performing and singing."

Jaku Conbit, a local community association responsible for programs helping disadvantaged young people, is the driving force behind Ottawa's Kwanzaa celebration. 

WHEN: Sunday, Dec. 18 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

WHERE: Ottawa City Hall

COST: $25 for adults, $15 for youth and children under 10 are free.  Admission includes a meal of traditional African dishes. More information is available here.

About the Author

Sandra Abma


Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at