Best Music

1. Natalie MacMaster: The Grammy-nominated fiddler presents "Christmas in Cape Breton," a lively evening of her famous hits, traditional and contemporary Celtic melodies and vigorous step-dancing.

Where: Hylton Performing Arts Center, 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Info: $34 to $50, half price for youth through grade 12; 888-945-2468;

2. National Symphony Orchestra: Hans Graf conducts works by Lutoslawski and Tchaikovsky, and Yuja Wang performs Chopin's Piano Concerto No. 1.

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

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

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

3. National Philharmonic Chorale: Stan Engebretson conducts the National Philharmonic and the singers in Handel's "Messiah."

Where: Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 22, and 3 p.m. Dec. 23

Info: $28 to $81; 301-581-5100;

4. New Dominion Chorale: Thomas Beveridge conducts the singers, soloists from the Washington National Cathedral and a professional orchestra in a new English translation by Beveridge of J.S. Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."

Where: Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall & Arts Center, 3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Info: $30 adult, $25 senior, $5 students; 703-442-9404;

5. Chucho Valdes Quintet: The Washington Performing Arts Society presents the recipient of many honorary degrees and veteran of concerts with jazz greats worldwide performing a potpourri of Latin jazz music.

Where: Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, 600 I St. NW

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Info: $35; 202-785-9727;

Best Galleries

1. In the Tower: Barnett Newman: Curated from the NGA's deep holdings of Barnett Newman's work, this exhibit focuses on two pivotal periods of the pioneering artist's career: his 1940s migration from biomorphic forms to more geometric experiments and "The Stations of the Cross," the epic cycle of 14 paintings he created between 1958 and 1966.

Where: National Gallery of Art, East Building, Fourth Street and Constitution Ave. NW

When: Through Feb. 24

Info: Free; 202-737-4215;

2. African Cosmos: Stellar Arts: This consideration of how African "cultural astronomy" influences and reflects traditional and contemporary Africa looks at the inspiration that two centuries of artists have drawn from the sun, moon and other celestial objects.

Where: National Museum of African Art, 950 Independence Ave. SW

When: Through Sunday

Info: Free; 202-633-4600;

3. Kesha Bruce: Wrestling with Angels: Inspired by the biblical story of Jacob, who wrestled with an angel, this series of 14 paintings depicts two figures whose embrace is variously portrayed as carnal, sexual or simply opaque.

Where: Morton Fine Art, 1781 Florida Ave. NW

When: Friday through Jan. 2

Info: Free; 202-628-2787;

4. Suzanne Vigil: Up Close & Too Personal: Suzanne Vigil's highly detailed drawings in colored pencil take a near-fetishistic interest in the blemishes and unkempt hairs that many portraitists (and many photo editing tools) seek to erase.

Where: The Torpedo Factory Art Center, The Art League Gallery, 105 N. Union St., Alexandria

When: Through Jan. 7

Info: Free; 703-683-1780;

5. Turned and Burnt: Pre-Columbian Artifacts and Wood-turned Vessels: These Mayan ceramics predate the arrival of the potter's wheel in the Americas, reflecting the prevalence of hand-firing techniques in the manufacturing of their era.

Where: George Washington University, Luther W. Brady Art Gallery, 805 21st St. NW

When: Through Dec. 21

Info: Free; 202-994-1525;

Best Brainfood

1. "The Nutcracker": Utah's pre-eminent ballet company, Ballet West, brings America's oldest complete "Nutcracker" to Washington.

Where: Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW

When: Through Sunday

Info: $45 to $150; 202-467-4600;

2. Inventing Wine: In this fascinating history, Paul Lukacs charts the evolution of a drink that was once as indispensable as water to its current status as a pleasure and a cultural choice.

Where: Politics & Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Avenue NW

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

Info: Free; 202-364-1919;

3. Juba! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance: The Kennedy Center and the Chicago Human Rhythm Project present extraordinary foot drummers and percussive arts masters. At the Eisenhower Theater.

Where: Kennedy Center, 2700 F Street NW

When: 8 p.m. Friday

Info: $19 to $50; 202-467-4600;

4. Folger Shakespeare Library: Honoring the work of James Salter: Salter is this year's recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award.

Where: Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol Street SE

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Info: $15; 202-544-7077;

5. "There Was Once ...": A film directed by Gabor Kalman. In English and Hugarian with English subtitles. Gyongyi Mago is a Hungarian Catholic high school teacher striving to chart a new course of tolerance in her conflict-ridden hometown, Kalocsa, Hungary. While looking for a subject for her dissertation, she discovers a forgotten part of local history: the Jewish community that once thrived but is now nonexistent in her city.

Where: D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th Street NW

When: 7 p.m. Dec. 10

Info: 202-518-9400;

Best Outdoors

1. New Limo Scavenger Hunt based on James Bond: From "Dr. No" and "Goldfinger" through "The Spy Who Loved Me" and up to "Skyfall,"you'll incorporate some of the best movie moments from the James Bond genre. A new special twist: Tonight, you become the spies. In an evening of international espionage -- in Secret Agent fashion -- you will race around our nation's capitol completing tasks, collecting items, and solving clues.

Where: Meet at Rosslyn Metro; go up escalator; check-in is outside turnstiles.

When: 7 to 11 p.m. Friday

Info: $69;

2. Bird Watching for Beginners: Adults and teens. Winter is a great time to learn about bird-watching. There are fewer species to identify and fewer leaves to hide them from view! Starting indoors, you'll cover the basics of bird-watching such as choosing and using binoculars and field guides, how and where to find birds and basic bird ID. Then you'll put your new skills to use by birding around the nature center.

Where: Meet at Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington

When: 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday

Info: $5; Registration necessary: 703-228-4747; Program #622943-G

3. Winter Tree ID: Adults, 14 and above. The leaves are all gone, but you can still identify what tree it is without the easy leaf to show you clues. Learn to identify the trees of Arlington parks by their bark and shape. Wear cold weather clothes, you will be outside the whole time.

Where: Meet at Long Branch Nature Center, 625 S. Carlin Springs Rd., Arlington

When: 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday

Info: $5; Registration necessary: 703-228-4747; Program # 622943-J

4. Civil War Forts Van Tour: Forts of North Arlington: Ages 12 to adult. Union fortifications in North Arlington were built to protect Washington and the bridges across the Potomac River. The program begins at Fort. C.F. Smith and travels by van to Forts Bennett, Ethan Allen and finally Fort Marcy in Fairfax County. Learn about the men and equipment stationed at the forts and the reasons behind each fort's location. Dress for the weather. Walking will be on mostly flat unpaved surfaces. Information: 703-243-4342.

Where: Meet at Fort C.F. Smith, 2411 N. 24th St., Arlington

When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday

Info: $15; Registration necessary: 703-228-4747; Program #622743-A

5. Day Long Luxury Wine & Vineyard Tour: Take a day long tour to three Loudoun County wineries and vineyards and enjoy a wine tasting where it cannot be any fresher, direct from the vineyards themselves. You'll meet the operators, tour the vineyards and taste amazing wine.

Where: Meet at Rosslyn Metro station, inside.

When: 9:15 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

Info: $75;

Best Family

1. Family Story Time: A tale appropriate for all ages will be followed by the making of a simple craft.

Where: Watha T. Daniel-Shaw Library, 1630 Seventh St. NW

When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday

Info: Free; 202-727-1288;

2. Civil War Discovery: Build a Fort: Children ages 7 to 11 will begin by investigating how and why fortifications were built in Arlington in the Civil War. Then, using Lincoln Logs and dirt, youngsters can design and build replica forts. For more information: 703-243-4342.

Where: Meet at Fort C. F. Smith, 2411 N. 24th St., Arlington

When: 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday

Info: $5; registration of children required: 703-228-4747; program No. 622723-A

3. "The Nutcracker": The Virginia Ballet Company's selections from Tchaikovsky's glittering confection are full of lovely costumes, lively dances and elegant holiday cheer.

Where: National Theatre, 1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

When: 9:30 and 11 a.m. Saturday

Info: Free, but tickets required; 202-783-3372;

4. "Seussical": Svea Johnson and Simon Diesenhaus share the role of JoJo, a child from the land of Whoville, where every person is important and anything is possible. This musical, based on work of Dr. Seuss, is best for ages 4 to 12.

Where: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave, Bethesda

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $12 to $25; 301-280-1660;

5. "The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg": This world-premiere adaptation of acclaimed author Rodman Philbrick's witty and poignant novel follows young Homer P. Figg, an orphan who must journey into the thick of the Civil War to save his brother. Age 8 and older.

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

When: 11 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 4 p.m. Sunday

Info: $18; 202-467-4600; 800-444-1324;

Best Gatherings

1. "Hansel and Gretel" Preview: This Target Family Night performance in conjunction with the Washington National Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program highlights selections from the WNO's upcoming production of Engelbert Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel."

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

When: 6 p.m. Saturday

Info: Free; 202-467-4600;

2. Izumi Ashizawa: The 2010 Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Faculty Achievement Award winner presents "Dreams in the Arms of the Binding Lady," an interdisciplinary collaboration with dancers, actors, composers, sculptors and musicians.

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

When: 6 p.m. Sunday

Info: Free; 202-467-4600;

3. Step Afrika! Magical, Musical Holiday Step Show: Can Step Afrika! teach a polar bear to step? What about a penguin? This December, come make music with Step Afrika! and its furry friends from the animal kingdom in this new dance tradition.

Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE

When: Dec. 12 to 23

Info: $35, seniors, students and military $20, children 17 and under $12; 202-399-7993;

4. "The heART of Hip Hop": Join Joy of Motion Dance Center as it celebrates dance with the biannual Motion Expressions Concert. This concert will feature performances by resident adult dance company DCypher Dance as well as Life, Rhythm, Move Project and other special guests.

Where: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NW

When: 10 a.m. Dec. 11

Info: Free; 202-399-7993;

5. The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum: This museum was a family business founded in 1792 and operated in this location from 1796 to 1933. It represents one of Alexandria's oldest continuously run businesses that combined retailing, wholesaling and manufacturing. The museum boasts a remarkable collection of herbal botanicals, handblown glass and medical equipment.

Where: 105 S. Fairfax St., Alexandria

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday; closed Christmas, New Year's Day

Info: Free; contributions appreciated; 703-746-1704;

Best Theater

1. "Altar Boyz": This musical follows five young singers, a heavenly guy-group, if you will.. Full of sharp parody and irreverent humor, this spoof is a mix of clever songs and energetic dancing.

Where: 1st Stage, 1524 Springhill Road, McLean

When: Through Dec. 30

Info: $15 to $30; 703-854-1856;

2. "Les Liaisons Dangereuses": A modern theater version revives the 17th-century novel outlining sex, revenge and decadence among French aristocrats. The play comes from the famous Theatre de l'Atelier in Paris and is directed by John Malkovich.

Where: The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW

When: Thursday to Sunday

Info: $65 to $80; 202-547-1122;

3. "A Trip to the Moon": From one of D.C.'s most inventive theater artists, Natsu Onoda Power, this whimsical, original piece -- based on the 1902 silent film by Georges Melies -- will delight and inspire.

Where: Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell St., Arlington

When: Through Jan. 6

Info: $20 to $55; 800-494-8497;

4. "How I Paid for College": Seventeen-year-old Edward Zanni is Peter Panning his way through life with his screwball theater friends. When his businessman father remarries and pulls the plug on Edward's dreams, the aspiring thespian turns to a life of disorganized crime.

Where: The Hub Theatre, John Swayze Theatre, 9431 Silver King Court, Fairfax

When: Friday to Dec. 30

Info: $15 to $30; 800-494-8497;

5. "Pajama Men: In the Middle of No One": Shenoah Allen and Mark Chavez present hilariously swift character switches and plot twists.

Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW

When: Dec. 11 to Jan. 6

Info: $55 to $67.50; 202-393-3939;