Best Music

1. National Symphony Orchestra: Rolf Beck conducts the orchestra, the University of Maryland Concert Choir and guest soloists in Handel's "The Messiah."

Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, 2700 F St. NW

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday

Info: $10 to $85; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

2. Washington National Opera: The Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists perform Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel."

Where: Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, 2700 F St. NW

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Info: $44 to $69; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

3. Last Train Home: D.C. roots-rock favorite plays original holiday songs and yuletide favorites.

Where: Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW

When: 6 p.m. Thursday

Info: Free

4. Christine Lavin and Uncle Bonsai: The singer/songwriter Lavin and folk pop ensemble present "Just One Angel," an irreverent Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice and New Year's anti-holiday holiday concert.

Where: The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria

When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Info: $25; 800-745-3000;

5. Holiday Follies: A non-traditional show featuring some of Signature's favorite guest artists.

Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington

When: 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 7 p.m. Sunday

Info: $41; 703-573-SEAT;

Best Brainfood

1. Moscow Ballet's Great Russian "Nutcracker": In 1993, Moscow Ballet toured the Great Russian Nutcracker for the first time across North America to critical acclaim. Directed and choreographed by Stanislav Vlasov, former soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet, it quickly was recognized as a classic. Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Moscow Ballet's "Nutcracker."

Where: Concert Hall, George Mason University, Ox Road and Route 123, Fairfax

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

Info: $29 to $125; 888-945-2468;

2. Black Masala: The D.C.-based group performs a colorful mix of sounds that draws on melodies of Eastern European brass bands, New Orleans jazz, Latin grooves, ambient/experimental indie rock riffs and a hint of Appalachian twang.

Where: Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW

When: 6 p.m. Friday

Info: Free; 202-467-4600;

3. "A Museum of Their Own: 25 Years of NMWA History": The museum's history is illustrated through documents, printed matter and photographs selected from its archives.

Where: National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW

When: Through Friday

Info: 202-783-5000;

4. All-Star Christmas Day Jazz Jam: Celebrate this festive Millennium Stage tradition -- now in its 14th year -- with host and vibraphonist Chuck Redd, pianist Robert Redd, drummer Lenny Robinson, trumpeter Tom Williams, bassist James King and vocalist Delores Williams.

Where: Millennium Stage, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW

When: 6 p.m. Dec. 25

Info: Free; 202-467-4600;

5. Evening Music with Samovar: Get into the holiday spirit with a live performance by Russian folk musicians Samovar. Limited seating available. No registration necessary.

Where: National Botanic Gardens, 100 Maryland Ave. SW

When: 6 p.m. Dec. 27

Info: Free; 202-225-8333;

Best Family

1. Seasons of Light: The many holidays and traditions that are observed during this period are highlighted in this show. Best for ages 5 to 10.

Where: Discovery Theater, S. Dillon Ripley Center, 1100 Jefferson Drive SW

When: Through Friday

Info: $3 to $12; 202-633-8700;

2. Winter Solstice Campfire: Celebrate the year's longest night with a campfire, stories, paper lanterns and toasted marshmallows. Bring a flashlight and a blanket.

Where: Black Hill Regional Park, 20926 Lake Ridge Drive, Boyds

When: 7 to 8 p.m. Friday

Info: $5; 301-528-3492;

3. "Holiday Planes and Trains": Miniature trains, villages, tunnels and depots are decked out in the Yuletide spirit.

Where: College Park Aviation Museum, 1985 Cpl. Frank Scott Drive, College Park

When: Through Saturday

Info: $4, seniors $3, 18 and under $2, children under 2 free; 301-864-6029;

4. See, Hear, Sketch: Deer in the Winter Woods: For kids ages 5 to 9. What are the wintertime habits of Arlington's white-tailed deer? Learn about coat colors, falling antlers, deer tracks, and other changes and signs, and sketch your own deer portraits. Art supplies will be provided, but feel free to bring your own sketchbook and pencil. For information: 703-228-3403.

Where: Gulf Branch Nature Center, 3608 N. Military Road, Arlington

When: 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday

Info: $5; Registration required: 703-228-4747; program No. 622823-R

Best Gatherings

1. "A Commedia Christmas Carol": Based on the book by Charles Dickens and presented by Faction of Fools. When Pantalone Scrooge is visited by his old friend Dottore Marley, an unforgettable adventure of ghosts, yuletides and omens sets the greedy old man on the rocky road to redemption. Dickens' London comes alive in a new way with a Commedia twist and a fresh new script.

Where: Gallaudet University, Elstad Auditorium, 800 Florida Ave. NE

When: Through Sunday

Info: $10 to $25; 202-651-5000;

2. Christmas on the Potomac and "ICE!": Adults and children will enjoy Gaylord National's popular winter holiday attractions. "ICE!" returns, featuring DreamWorks' "Shrek the Halls." The animated holiday TV special will be brought to life in an interactive world of colorful ice sculptures, including incredible 20-foot-tall ice slides carved from two million pounds of ice.

Where: Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center, 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: See website for prices; 301-965-2000;

3. "Santaland Diaries": Based on the outlandish, true chronicles of David Sedaris' experience as an elf in Macy's Santaland, this cult classic riffs on Sedaris' encounters with his fellow man during the height of the holiday crunch.

Where: RedRum at Fort Fringe, 612 L St. NW

When: Through Dec. 24

Info: $20; 866-811-4111;

4. Season's Greetings: Get into the holiday spirit at the U.S. Botanic Garden. The Conservatory will be adorned with wreaths, garlands, living ornaments and filled with a vast collection of poinsettias to celebrate the wonder of the winter holiday season. The famous Garden Railway in the East Gallery will feature model trains running through an imaginative Enchanted Forest, with fanciful fairy dwellings along the rail line, all created with plant materials.

Where: U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory, 100 Maryland Ave. SW

When: Through Jan. 1

Info: Free; 202-225-8333;

Best Outdoors

1. Round out the week and ring in the weekend with fireworks at the National Harbor. Festivities include musical performances, shopping and food specials, crafts, and a grand finale fireworks show over the Potomac River.

Where: National Harbor, 150 National Plaza, Fort Washington

When: Music 5 p.m., fireworks 7 p.m. Friday

Info: Free; 877-628-5427;

2. Winter Lights at Seneca Creek State Park: This magical Christmas light show, including more than 350 illuminated displays, graces a 3.5-mile drive through the park.

Where: Seneca Creek State Park, 11950 Clopper Road, Gaithersburg

When: Through Dec. 31

Info: $12 to $15 per car; 301-924-2127;

3. Enjoy Christmas at Williamsburg: The rink is closed on Christmas Day. Operation hours may be adjusted based on weather conditions, participation numbers and special events. Children age 11 and younger must be accompanied and supervised by an adult at all times. All participants must wear skates.

Where: Sullivan Square, 4301 New Town Ave., Williamsburg

When: Through Jan. 13;

Info: $5, $7 with skates; 757-259-5360;

4. Bull Run Festival of Lights: This festive display of lights features penguins, snowmen, deer, candy canes and Santa. The event will include more than 40,000 animated lights set to music! After viewing the lights, you can visit the new Winter Wonderland Holiday Village, which includes amusement rides, an ice-skating rink, entertainment, shopping, contests, food and more.

Where: 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centreville

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $15 to $20 per car; 703-359-4633;

5. Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Gardens: New in 2012! The garden offers a half-mile walking tour of lights featuring unique animated displays with a nature theme and a Gingerbread Village. After visiting the display, step inside the Visitor Center to warm up with some light refreshments.

Where: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $7 to $14; 703-255-3631;

Best Theater

1. "Apples from the Desert": A soul-rending story of love and reconciliation adapted by one of Israel's most beloved authors, this hit Israeli play follows the young Sephardic woman, a religious teenager, who falls for a secular kibbutznik when they meet at a Jerusalem dance studio.

Where: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NW

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $25 to $60; 800-494-TIXS (8497);

2. "Million Dollar Quartet": The smash-hit Broadway musical was inspired by the true story of the famed recording session where Sam Phillips, the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll," brought together Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Where: Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $70 to $160; 202-467-4600;

3. "The Screwtape Letters": The play based on C.S. Lewis' novella reveals spiritual warfare from a demon's point of view. This funny, provocative and wickedly witty theatrical adaptation, starring Max McLean as Screwtape, will change the way you think about your everyday life.

Where: Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW

When: Through Dec. 30

Info:$39 to $89; 202-547-1122;

4. "An Iliad": In Denis O'Hare and Lisa Peterson's updated version of "The Iliad," the storyteller grapples with the mythology, brutality and humanity of Homer's epic poem. The play is an intimate look at rage, grief and the heroism and horror of a seemingly endless war.

Where: Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW

When: Friday through Jan. 13

Info: $39 to $61; 202-332-3300;

5. "Holidays on Ice": Rep Stage's producing artistic director, Michael Stebbins, brings David Sedaris' caustic holiday essays to life and adds a dash(er) of pessimism to the season in this saucy alternative to regular holiday fare.

Where: Rep Stage, Horowitz Center, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

When: Through Sunday

Info: $15; 443-518-1500;

Best Galleries

1. Roy Lichtenstein: A Retrospective: The pioneering pop artist's first major U.S. retrospective features more than 100 paintings from throughout his decades-long career, as well as a number of drawings and sculptures.

Where: National Gallery of Art, West Building, Seventh Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW

When: Through Jan. 13

Info: Free; 202-737-4215;

2. Ivan Sigal: White Road: These nearly 100 black-and-white photographs, taken between 1998 and 2005, consider what remained of Eurasia's provincial towns and cities after the Soviet Union was dismantled.

Where: Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17th St. NW

When: Through Jan. 27

Info: $10, students and seniors $8, age 12 and under and active-duty military personnel free

3. Promise of Paradise: Early Chinese Buddhist Sculpture: The majority of these pieces date from the sixth through eighth centuries, when Buddhism was widespread in China. Originally created for temples and chapels, these monumental stones figures remain imposing.

Where: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, 1050 Independence Ave. SW

When: Ongoing

Info: Free; 202-644-1000;

4. Nothing Lasts Forever: New paintings and sculpture from Julie Roberts and Kenny Hunter, respectively, explore the theme of the intrusions of the adult world into the child's realm of dreams.

Where: Connersmith, 1358 Florida Ave. NE

When: Closing Saturday

Info: Free; 202-588-8750;

5. No Strings Attached: The five-artist collection known as Delusions of Grandeur contributes this examination of how the structural forms of building reinforce mechanisms of social control in society.

Where: 39th Street Gallery, Gateway Arts Center, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood

When: Through Dec. 31

Info: Free; 301-864-3860;