’Tis the season for Scrooge and sugarplums

The “holiday season” in this city doesn’t begin the day after Thanksgiving or when electronic gizmos go on sale at 5 a.m. The exact time of this season’s start was 7:33 p.m. last Thursday, in the War Memorial Opera House. That’s when Ashley Wheater, as Drosselmeyer, cast a spell on the Christmas tree onstage, and amid the oohs and aahs of 3,000 children of various ages, the tree grew and grew, reaching for the sky, bright lights surrounding it, enormous boxes of presents sliding in place.

Since its Dec. 24, 1944, American premiere at War Memorial, Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” has meant holiday magic, often providing a significant first experience of classical music to tiny (and larger) tots, a live orchestra and magnificent dancers bringing sugarplums to an astonishing number of viewers and listeners — a total audience in excess of several millions in this one small town alone.

The current production, gloriously traditional and yet streamlined in Helgi Tomasson’s choreography, on Michael Yeargan’s sets evoking the San Francisco of 1915, runs through Dec. 31, with two performances on most days, Mondays being dark. Tickets (visit www.sfballet.org) are on the pricey side, $18 to $150, and almost all tickets under $50 are sold out. But there are always $18 standing-room tickets for the determined and sturdy of legs.

Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is another holiday tradition, in the new A.C.T. Carey Perloff-Paul Walsh production, with music by Karl Lundeberg, choreography by Val Caniparoli. Few things can get you into the holiday spirit as effectively as watching mean old Scrooge become Tiny Tim’s heartfelt benefactor.

Tickets (visit www.act-sf.org) are in the $25 to $80 range; the run ends on Dec. 24.

Mixing the music of Mozart, Bach, Handel, Palestrina and Corelli with traditional carols, klezmer, and performances by Eartha Kitt, Willie Nelson and The Chieftains, Michael Smuin’s “The Christmas Ballet” returns from Walnut Creek, Mountain View and Carmel for performances in the Yerba Buena Center through Dec. 24.

For tickets, which range from $42 to $55, visit www.ybca.org.

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