Lincoln Center's campus, complete with its famous fountain, public plazas, and architecture, is a must-visit destination at any time of year for residents and tourists alike. But during the holidays, its magic is magnified tenfold. The reason? The world's largest performing arts center hosts dozens of events—including several free performances—that bring the varied delights of the festive season to appreciative audiences.

The Metropolitan Opera's holiday presentations—abridged, English-language performances suitable for audiences of all ages—have been such a success that this year, two of the most popular are scheduled. First, Julie Taymor's dazzling production of Mozart's The Magic Flute (featuring Nathan Gunn as Papageno) returns with performances from November 25 to December 9. That's followed by Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel in Richard Jones's inventive staging, which holds the Met stage from December 18 to January 6.

This season, Great Performers presents two holiday-themed concerts. On December 6, music director Masaaki Suzuki and his acclaimed ensemble Bach Collegium Japan return to Alice Tully Hall for a performance of their namesake's masterwork, the "Christmas Oratorio." That's followed on December 17 by the German a cappella quintet Calmus, which brings its Christmas Carols Around the World program to the Walter Reade Theater for a selection of holiday music evoking everything from Caribbean carnivals to Scandinavian fjords.

It wouldn't be the holiday season at Lincoln Center without New York City Ballet's unforgettable production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker®, which returns to the David H. Koch Theater from November 24 through December 31. Balanchine's sumptuous staging of Tschaikovsky's classic ballet features 100 dancers, 62 musicians, and 32 stagehands, along with two separate casts of 50 young students from the School of American Ballet.

Illuminating the Festive Season
Photo by Tristan Cook
Chamber Music Society's Brandenburg Concertos

At Alice Tully Hall, the annual Baroque Collection concerts of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center feature music by Handel, Couperin, Bach, Vitali, Telemann, and Vivaldi, performed by an all-star cast of 13 musicians—including violinists Aaron Boyd, Bella Hristova, Chad Hoopes, Sean Lee, and Todd Phillips—on December 3 and 5. Bach is also featured later in the month for the complete Brandenburg Concertos, an annual tradition kept fresh by changing the performing order of the concertos by the 21 virtuoso musicians (December 15, 17, 19).

Jazz at Lincoln Center has a packed December of holiday-related events, beginning with its annual WeBop Family Jazz Party (December 9, Varis Leichtman Studio). The intimate confines of Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola are the perfect setting for Riley's Red Hot Holidays, featuring trumpeter/music director Riley Mulherkar and a collective of the New York music scene's rising stars (December 15–17), and the return of Sherman Irby: A New Christmas Story, which stars the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra's saxophonist (December 20–24). The beloved Big Band Holidays returns to the Rose Theater December 13–17, as the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis and special guest vocalists Catherine Russell and Kenny Washington perform swinging versions of several holiday favorites.

At David Geffen Hall, the New York Philharmonic's annual holiday events include Holiday Brass (December 17), in which conductor/host/trumpeter Philip Smith and the New York Philharmonic Brass and Percussion salute master trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who turned 90 earlier this year; Handel's Messiah (December 12–16), sung by soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano, tenor Ben Bliss, bass Andrew Foster-Williams, and the Westminster Symphonic Choir under the direction of Joe Miller; and the New Year's Eve concert, which this year celebrates Bernstein on Broadway, a salute to the venerable laureate conductor of the Philharmonic, led by conductor Bramwell Tovey.

Illuminating the Festive Season
Photo by Paula Lobo for the New York Times
Something Positive

Then there are the free holiday events, which at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts begin on December 4 with the return of Navidad Flamenca, whose performers show off the diversity of national traditions of holiday music, carols, and dance, while also reflecting the far-reaching influence of Spanish culture in the Western hemisphere. That's followed on December 16 and 18 by another annual favorite, Holiday Songbook, in which talented vocalists sing seasonal songs by Broadway composers and lyricists. The Performing Arts Library is also hosting a special exhibition through January 27 which ties in with New York City Ballet's annual Nutcracker performances. Winter Wonderland: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker® charts its early years from the 1954 premiere to the successful remounted production a decade later. The exhibition tells the story of Balanchine's enduring ballet through the archives of the Jerome Robbins Dance Division, featuring photographs, set models, costume designs, and even original film footage.

The David Rubenstein Atrium has free events all year round, from family programs and film screenings to wide-ranging conversations and concerts. On November 27, J'ouvert Celebration at the Atrium: De Wedding Party of Dame Lorraine & King Jab Jab, by the cultural organization Something Positive, brings the music, dance, and street theater of Trinidad's carnival to Lincoln Center. This comic theater piece—in which the troupe presents the traditional masquerade characters of the pre-Lenten carnival in a mock marriage ceremony—is part of Winter's Eve, an annual neighborhood festival that celebrates the start of the holiday season on the Upper West Side.

See the calendar for a complete list of upcoming programs.