THANKSGIVING COMES late this year. Hanukkah comes early. Christmas and Kwanzaa will come sooner than ever. Even on regular years, the winter holidays seem to get hazy. Chances are, there will be too many errands to run and family to see and parties to hop and traditions to follow. Our solution? This time around, take the time - just a little - to really take in the season.

Pop by the new light show at Franklin Square one night after work. Send Grandmom and the girls to see "The Nutcracker" or "Snowball." Take a long lunch to catch the light show at Wanamaker's (OK, Macy's). Plan an evening visit to the evergreens and train sets at Morris Arboretum or the Brandywine Museum.

For ye olde multitaskers, local holiday traditions new and old allow you to get a bunch of things done at once. Ice skate at Penn's Landing, and you can also eat dinner and shop for handmade crafts. Head to Linvilla to cut down your own tree and chat up Santa, too.

But first: Stop. Pour yourself a cup of something cozy. Grab a pen. Circle the events on this calendar you'd like to do. Then, make it happen. After all, 'tis the season for miracles, right?

NEW IN TOWN

Behind the Scenes of "The Nutcracker"

Those who can't get enough of this holiday ballet can now get more. The former Atwater Kent displays ballerina-worn tutus, the Sugar Plum's tiara, and that creepy Mouse King's head. It also lets visitors try their feet at the five classical positions.

Philadelphia History Museum, 15 S. 7th St., through January, $6-$10 (12 and under free), 215-685-4829, philadelphiahistory.org.

Electrical Spectacle

No city square should be without sparkle. Franklin gets its illumination on via 50K LED lights, including a 12-foot-tall kite with a 250-foot light string, a holiday train, always-festive carousel, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations, and visits from Santa and Ben, that jolly old elf.

Franklin Square, 6th and Race streets, 4:30-8 p.m. (every half hour) through Dec. 31, free, 215-629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org.

"Snowball"

Modern dance company Brian Sanders' JUNK serves up a family-friendly, two-acter about a shy boy name Tim, a strong girl named Gem, and their evil ice queen of a landlady. Audience members join in the show by shouting, dancing the "Flake-Out," bopping along to '80s hits and, best of all, throwing (faux) snowballs.

Harold Prince Theatre, Annenberg Center, 3680 Walnut St., Dec. 4-15, $20-$40, 215-898-3900, annenbergcenter.org.

Waterfront Winterfest

This year, when you take a spin around the RiverRink, you can do more than play in the arcade during the Zamboni breaks. The Penn's Landing mainstay will turn old shipping containers into a pop-up "lodge" proffering cool crafts curated by No Libs' Art Star, live music, evergreens, fire pits, adult beverages and an on-the-hour nightly 3D light show called "Bright Lights, Big Santa."

Blue Cross RiverRink, S. Columbus Boulevard and Walnut Street, Nov. 29-Jan. 5, $3 for 90 minutes skating, $10 skate rental, $12 parking, free for lodge and light show, 215-925-RINK, riverrink.com.

TRIED & TRUE

Brandywine Christmas

With an O-gauge railroad, immense Victorian dolls and dollhouse, handmade critters hanging from umpteen evergreens, not to forget the endless Wyeths, the serene scene at this river-top museum pleases traditionalists of all ages. Open late Dec. 5, 12, 19, 26-30.

Brandywine River Museum, U.S. Route 1, Chadds Ford, Nov. 29-Jan. 5, $6-$12 (under 6 free), 610-388-2700, brandywinemuseum.org.

Macy's Light Show

Meet up at the eagle (statue) for a tradition that dates back decades. The colorful fountains are gone, but the giant, moving Lite Brite-esque display will be in full force, as is that famous pipe organ and amazed, neck-craning crowd. (Pro tip: Fine to refer to the show and store as Wanamaker's. In fact, if you call it Macy's, you probably haven't lived in Philly long enough.)

Macy's Center City, 13th and Market streets, showtimes 10 a.m., noon and 2, 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Nov. 29-Dec. 31, free, wanamakerorgan.com.

Christmas Village

With Dilworth Square still dug up, the action resumes in Love Park. You probably know the deal, but in case not: Nesting dolls and German beer, handmade jewelry and holiday tchotchkes, occasional entertainment and hot drinks - all out in the wintry air. (11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, until 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday.)

16th Street and JFK Boulevard, Nov. 28-Jan. 1, free, 215-820-5149, philachristmas.com.

Dickens Village

As if a trip to see Santa weren't scary enough, kids bound for St. Nick's lap must survive a trip through this throwback animated village depicting A Christmas Carol in 26 vignettes, including the downright terrifying "Ghost of Christmas Future." Oh, well. They're only young once.

Macy's Center City, Nov. 29-Dec. 31, free, 215-241-9000, visitmacysphiladelphia.com.

"George Balanchine's The Nutcracker"

Really, does any tradition feel fancier, or more magical, than dressing up in the afternoon and finding a seat beneath a billion-crystaled chandelier to watch a glowing Christmas tree grow, a toy turn into a prince, a sleepy girl throw her slipper, children burst from Mother Ginger's skirts, candy canes hop through hoops and snowfall on the Academy stage? There is not. New this year: A Nutcracker Market of art, craft and treats in the Kimmel Center's Commonwealth Plaza, 300 S. Broad St., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Dec. 7, till 7 p.m. Dec. 8, free.

Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Dec. 7-Dec. 29, $35-$135, 215-893-1999, paballet.org.

ON STAGES

"A Christmas Carol"

Believe it or not, Charles Dickens' great-great grandson tours the U.S. this time of year. When he gets to Byer's Choice, Bucks County makers of the mantelpiece dolls that depict many beings - most famously, characters from A Christmas Carol - Gerald Dickens performs his one-man adaptation of the holiday tale, humbugs and all. When you go, make time to tour the on-site Christmas Museum and impressive crèche collection.

4355 County Line Road, Chalfont, performances 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 7, $18, (museum open daily, free admission), 215-822-6700, byerschoice.com.

"Elf"

Broadway's hit about Santa's largest helper appeals to kids big and little with wry humor and holiday cheer. In the movie, Will Ferrell killed it as Buddy. Expect similar energy from his singing, dancing, striped-tights-wearing onstage counterpart.

Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., through Jan. 5, $10-$95, 215-574-3550, walnutstreettheatre.org.

"The Twelve Dates of Christmas"

Maggie Lakis ("Avenue Q") stars in this one-woman, R-rated comedy about what happens when you catch your fiance kissing another woman on Thanksgiving. At the Macy's parade. On national TV.

Act II Playhouse, 56 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, Dec. 10-29, $23-$34, 215-654-0200, act2.org.

ALL EARS

Holiday POPS!

C'mon. You know you wanna sing-along to the greatest hits of the season. This festive concert - so popular it happens nine times - lets you do just that. It also gives you a gander at the Pops' new conductor, David Charles Abell.

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, S. Broad and Spruce streets, various times Dec. 6-21, $30-$111, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

Philadelphia Orchestra

The "Glorious Sounds of Christmas," a tradition since the days of vinyl - this year conducted by Sarah Hicks - and Handel's "Messiah," performed with the Philadelphia Singers Chorale, offer an inspired excuse to take a breather as the big day approaches.

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, S. Broad and Spruce streets, "Glorious Sounds," 7 p.m. Dec. 19-21. "Messiah," 2 p.m. Dec. 22, $35-$125, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

A Soulful Christmas

This five-choir concert, starring R&B vocalist Melba Moore, is subtitled "Shout for Joy!' And that's what audience members will be doing after a few moments of rousing spirituals and gospel tunes. By the time you get to the finale - Adolphus Hailstork's brass-bounced, timpani-trembled "Shout for Joy!" - you'll be out of your seat.

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center, S. Broad and Spruce streets, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, $25-$45, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.

Vienna Boys Choir

With Mannheim Steamroller skipping town this season, fans seeking internationally acclaimed holiday voices have one night to get themselves to Glenside, where Austria's most angelic voices, ages 10-14, promise to transport listeners to yuletide bliss.

Keswick Theatre, 291 N. Keswick Ave., 4 p.m. Dec. 14, $25-$39.50, 215-572-7650, keswicktheatre.com.

"Winter Musicale"

Bristol Riverside Theatre's fave singers dress up and come out for matinees and evening performances of carols, holiday hits and original wintertide numbers.

Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, Dec. 5-15, $35 ($10-$28 children and military), 215-785-0100, brtstage.org.

NOT CHRISTMAS

"Being at Christmas"

Believe it or not, not everyone celebrates Dec. 25 the same way. Folks with the day off but not necessarily much else to do can head to Independence Mall for fill-in-the-blank family fun that includes Baby Loves Disco and other secular winter's day wonders.

National Museum of American Jewish History, 5th and Market streets, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 25, $5-$12, 215-923-3811, nmajh.org.

Kwanzaa

Two days of family-friendly happenings - dance, dedications, storytelling and craft-making - take place in the heart of this year's First Fruits of the Harvest celebration. Visitors are encouraged to bring canned food for Philabundance.

African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 28, noon-4 p.m. Dec. 29, $10-$14 (under 4 free), 215-574-0380, aampmuseum.org.

Kwanzaabration

Kenny Gamble and Odunde CEO Oshunbumi Fernandez helm this first-ever fest. The day opens with a ceremony honoring the holiday's seven principles and continues with family zumba, health screenings, a moon bounce, cooking and safety demos, a fashion and natural-hair show.

Althea Gibson Tennis Center, 1000 W. Girard Ave., 9 a.m.-7 p.m., Dec. 28, free, 267-320-4364.

Latkepalooza

The delish Jewish potato pancake gets top billing at the Gershman Y's Hanukkah bash, at a new venue. Local rockers Mama Doni get down with kid-friendly performances of "Latke Man" and "La Diva Dreidel." And for the older set: A wine (and latke) tasting.

Vie, 600 N. Broad St., 4:30 p.m.-9:30 p.m. (family party 4:30 p.m.-6 p.m.) Dec. 2, $8-$35 ($40 family pass), 215-545-4400, gershmany.org.

OUTDOORS

Garden Railway

"Thomas" fans will chug to Morris Arboretum's quarter-mile track, where model trains run along 15 lines, through seven loops and over nine bridges, past nature-infused scenes that include local landmarks. Friday evenings are extra thrilling, when lights along the line twinkle past dusk (4-7:30 p.m. Dec. 13, 20, 27; tickets required).

Morris Arboretum, 100 E. Northwestern Ave., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov. 22-Jan. 5, $7-$16 (under 3 free), 215-247-5777, www.upenn.edu/arboretum.

Linvilla's Christmasland

Caroling hayrides (5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7, 14, 21, $5 a person) and cut-your-own tree (from Nov. 23, $59.99) are highlights of "Christmas on the Farm," where the sheep are available for daytime petting, Santa visits weekends in December (1-3 p.m.), and the bake shop bursts with pies.

Linvilla Orchards, 137 W. Knowlton Road, Media, Nov. 23-Dec. 24, 610-876-7116, linvilla.com.

Longwood Christmas

This over-the-top spectacle is worth a splurge. Trees float, tower, and channel the Hotel Du Pont. Fountains burst. Lights sparkle. Choirs sing. There's a major indoor exhibit, too, in the conservancy. Timed tickets required.

Longwood Gardens, 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Nov. 28-Jan. 12, $11-$25 (under 5 free), 610-388-1000, longwoodgardens.org.

Shady Brook Farm

Two-mile drive-through light show lets participants stay in the comfort of their cars (or, Thursdays-Sundays, the relative comfort of a horse-drawn wagon; or, Mondays-Wednesdays, a tractor) while enjoying PECO-lit scenes of the "Grinch," the Statue of Liberty, trains and other festive phenomena. Post-ride, toast marshmallows and chill wit' the man in red.

931 Stony Hill Road, Yardley, dusk-10 p.m. Nov. 22-Jan. 5, $20-$25 per carload, $12 per person for tractor or wagon ride, 215-968-1670, shadybrookfarm.com.

HOLIDAY SPIRITS

Running of the Santas

Now in its 16th year, this daylong drink-fest, which officially includes a three-block, 4 p.m. fun run, provides a boon to sellers of beer and Santa suits, including the kind that might help someone win the "Hottest Mrs. Claus" contest. Thousands of participants are expected to the party. For charity, of course.

Finnigan's Wake (537 N. 3rd St.) and Electric Factory (421 N. 7th St.), 11 a.m. Saturday-2 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 7, $15, ticketmaster.com.