Take a break from the stress of making lists and untangling lights to experience Pittsburgh’s creative side. From an old-school radio play Downtown to a high-energy hootenanny on the Northside, there are a wealth of cultural happenings spanning the next 30 days.

To make sure you don’t miss a beat, here are the top 8 events not to miss in December, the first in our new monthly series. For more details, check out our events section each week.

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Photo by Suellen Fitzsimmons

1. PICT Classic Theatre’s Great Expectations: December 3 – 20, Stephen Foster Memorial

Kick off the holidays with a timeless moral tale that begins on Christmas morning. Follow along with young Pip in this classic coming-of-age adventure story, as the kindhearted orphan unexpectedly receives a sizable fortune from a wealthy benefactor. Setting off for bustling London to begin his new life as a gentleman, Pip encounters a cast of quintessential Dickensian characters, some with questionable motives, such as Miss Havisham, Estella, Herbert Pocket and Mr. Jaggers. A masterpiece of Victorian literature, Great Expectations takes theater-goers on a timeless journey of self exploration, love, revenge and social commentary—all brought to life via Dickens’ vivid storytelling, scenery and characters.

Adapted by the celebrated Irish dramatist Hugh Leonard and directed by Alan Stanford, PICT’s production of this holiday-time favorite features a large and versatile cast of young, emerging and seasoned actors alike. The conclusion of Pip’s journey has been debated for more than a century, and you’ll just have to wait and see which ending PICT chooses, as Dickens famously re-wrote the final pages of Great Expectations to make it more pleasing to readers. Purchase tickets.

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The Joy of Cookies Tour

2. Lawrenceville Joy of Cookies Tour: December 4 – 7

What are the holidays without homemade sugar cookies, gingerbread men and snickerdoodles? Baking from scratch and shopping local join forces to craft an unbeatable recipe for fun during the 15th annual Joy of Cookies Cookie Tour. Equal parts cookie crawl and buy local movement, the free, family-friendly event showcases Lawrenceville’s thriving Butler Street business district with 35 participating stops (look for the gingerbread cookie signs!).

Cookie Tourists will sample each shopkeeper’s favorite holiday treat, pick up recipes and explore the many diverse businesses that line Lawrenceville, from art galleries and gift emporiums, to coffeehouses and salons. Shops will also offer special discounts, prizes and gift cards. Looking for a lift? Hop on the Molly’s Trolley, which will circulate on Dec. 6th. Most participating shops are open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the tour. Download an event map.

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Bricolage Production Company

3. Midnight Radio It’s A Wonderful Life: December 4 – 20, Bricolage Production Company

Quick, can you finish this oft-quoted line: every time a bell rings . . . If you’re seeing visions of George, Mary and Zuzu dancing in your head, then you’re in for a treat at Bricolage Production Company‘s next installment of Midnight Radio. Closing out its sixth season of the popular series, Bricolage brings Frank Capra’s classic 1946 film, It’s A Wonderful Life, to its intimate Downtown stage. No you cannot tune into it on your radio dial, nor it does not start at midnight.

A timeless holiday tale that’s become a holiday television tradition, Midnight Radio, It’s a Wonderful Life transforms the cinematic classic into a theatrical live radio broadcast featuring five actors performing the voices of dozens of characters. Brought to life in front of a studio audience, the heartwarming show will feature live radio-style shenanigans, comedic commercials, musical guests, and Foley sound effects. Directed by Alex Tobey and written by Joe Landry, the radio play stars Brett Goodnack, Andrea Weinzierl, Wali Jamal, Jason McCune and Elena Alexandratos. Watch, and listen, as everyone’s favorite everyman George Bailey faces local robber baron and relentless curmudgeon Henry Potter, ultimately learning that “no man is a failure who has friends.” Arrive at 7:30 p.m. to enjoy Bricolage’s “Happy Half-Hour” featuring beer, wine, eggnog and zany activities in the lobby. Purchase tickets.

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Attack Theatre, photo by Brian Cohen

4. Attack Theatre’s Winter Festival: December 5 and 6, Pittsburgh Opera Building

Get unwrapped this holiday season at Attack Theatre‘s Winter Festival. Staying home for the holidays, the homegrown company presents a double header of holiday dance: the festive family favorite, Holiday Unwrapped, along with the premiere of Holiday Hijinks and Revue for the 21 and over crowd.

Back for it’s fifth year, Holiday Unwrapped showcases rambunctious physicality and theatrical wit of dancers Kaitlin Dann, Dane Toney, Liz Chang and Matt Pardo. Experience a playful world where socks morph into ice skates, empty packages become record players, and a dinner table has a life of its own. Let the frenetic season take you on a fantastical journey, and remember, it’s better to dance with the box on your head than to worry about what’s inside! Set to the sounds of classical, jazz and klezmer music, the family-friendly production features clever and energetic dance, interactive games, movement adventures, light snacks and a warm inviting atmosphere.  Ready to get your game on? Between shows on Dec. 6th, join in the fun at Game Day featuring interactive play for all ages.

Feeling more naughty than nice? Slink on over to the premiere of Holiday Hijinks and Revue—Attack’s creative twist on the classic holiday fête. Capping off the company’s Winter Festival on Dec. 6th at 7 p.m, the merry-making and movement bash boasts festive games, live performances, holiday fare and a Yuengling Family of Beers Tasting. Purchase tickets.

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WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny

5. WYEP’s Holiday Hootenanny: December 11, Stage AE

If you’ve already scored tickets to WYEP‘s seventh annual Holiday Hootenanny, then you can check one more thing off of your list, but act fast, because this local December favorite is known to sell out. Holiday traditions around the globe would not be the same without music, and YEP’s Hoot is one of the best places to celebrate local sounds, sweets and the spirit of giving. Whether you grew up listening to holiday standards by Johnny Mathis, The Beach Boys or Bing, you’re not going to want to miss this hip musical happening. Equal parts local live revue, benefit concert and cozy holiday sing-along (with hundreds of your closest friends), the event brings together local music luminaries, classic holiday tunes, a giant cookie table and pajamas for a very worthy cause.

The event kicks off at 7 p.m. with The Yule Kids Pajama Jam emceed by WYEP’s Morning Mix co-host Joey Spehar. The special kid-friendly set will feature a performance by the talented local music and comedy duo, Josh and Gab, who will perform holiday sing-along favorites new and old, including “Frosty the Snowman,” “Jingle Bells/Dradel Song” and a spirited version of “Father Christmas” by the Kinks.

At 8 p.m., the Hoot kicks into high gear, with live music by Joy Ike, Brooke Annibale, Billy Price, Mark Dignam, Chet Vincent, and others, all performing their signature takes on classic and contemporary holiday favorites. 

Don’t forget to bring children’s pajamas and child-appropriate books to donate (all items must be new) to the Western PA Chapter of The Pajama Program’s One Million Good Nights campaign, which serves children in need in group homes, shelters and temporary housing. Can’t make it to Stage AE? Tune in to WYEP at 8 p.m., for a live broadcast of the concert! Purchase tickets.

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HughShows Secret Santapalooza

6. HughShows Secret Santapalooza: December 19, Kollar Club

Why not give the gift of local music this holiday season? HughShows, The Deutschtown Music Festival and Wild Kindness Records are teaming up to present an all-star concert dubbed the Secret Santapalooza. Featuring Pittsburgh bands covering other Pittsburgh bandsand jamming with each other for special setsthe one-of-a-kind musical revue is setting up shop at the South Side-based Kollar Club (aka the Kollar John Slovak Society).

Sharing the stage will be Pittsburgh-based bands Grand Piano, The Harlan Twins, Chet Vincent & The Big Bend, Andrè Costello and the Cool Minors, The Red Western, Ghost Guts, Satin Gum and Chrome Moses.

The gathering of some of the city’s leading musical luminaries is also a way to support an important local cause. The concert is part of an ongoing series of benefits supporting local rock hero, fiction writer and Sound Cat Records owner Karl Hendricks, who was diagnosed with oral cancer in early 2014.  The lively event also marks the culmination of HughShows Live, a free all-ages monthly concert series that took place throughout 2014 at Downtown-based Eide’s Entertainment. The brainchild of dedicated Pittsburgh music blogger and photographer Hugh Twyman, who is celebrating 10 years “covering the indie music scene one photo at a time,” the series also collected donations for the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. Since 2004, Hugh has documented 1,200-plus bands on his blog, where local musicians share cyberspace with legendary artists as Brian Wilson, Mavis Staples and The Lumineers. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.; the music starts at 8:30 p.m. Purchase tickets.

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Girl Talk, photo by Dove Shore

7. Girl Talk: New Year’s Eve, December 31, Stage AE

New Year’s Eve, with its heady mix of nostalgia, carpe diem and hopes for the future, seems the perfect night to spend with Pittsburgh native and internationally acclaimed maestro of the mashup Girl Talk (along with a few thousand of his closest friends). Née Gregg Michael Gillis in Pittsburgh in 1981, the hometown star (who attended Chartiers Valley High School) kicks off 2015, and a new era for music, at the North Shore club. Those lucky enough to snag tickets to the sold-out show will be treated to Gillis’ prolific use of mashups, digital sampling and adrenaline pumping performance. Gillis’ hands-on spectacle-like appearances, which seem to take the form of ritualistic celebrations for fans, are known to employ a crew of stage hands who launch confetti, balloons, toilet paper and various wacky props into the audience.

Armed with a laptop and software, Girl Talk has emerged as a poster child for current debates about fair use, sampling and copyright laws. Crafting an infectious twist on the classic remix genre, Gillis often incorporates more than a dozen unauthorized samples from different songs to create new and wildly dynamic compositions. With a career that already spans 10-plus years of sample-obsessed production and relentless touring, Girl Talk has released five LPs on the Illegal Art label. His most recent full-length album, the densely crafted All Day, clocks in at 71 minutes and 372 samples. In April of 2014, Girl Talk teamed up with acclaimed Philly rapper Freeway to release the collaborative EP, Broken Ankles, which features contributions from Waka Flocka Flame, Young Chris and Jadakiss. The duo is also collaborating on a series of new music videos.

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Pittsburgh Cultural Trust

8. 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh in The Cultural District

If one of your resolutions is to make more time for art, then we suggest you kick off 2015 at Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. Hop on the bus or T before or after making the rounds—or make an entire night of it—from 6 p.m. to midnight. The region’s largest single-day celebration showcases the magic of the holiday season via an arts-focused, alcohol-free and family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration activating all corners of Pittsburgh’s Cultural District. The 21st annual edition boasts some 150 events at 50 indoor and outdoor locations within a 14-block area, making it the Burgh’s biggest New Year’s Eve bash.

Hotspots will be concerts on the Dollar Bank Stage and a national headlining act ringing in the New Year on the Highmark Stage. The signature countdown to midnight will feature the raising of the 1,000-pound Future of Pittsburgh ball 150 feet in the air above Penn Avenue Place, and the glorious glow of the Zambelli Fireworks finale display.

Additional highlights include the vibrant FedEx Ground Parade, a cherished tradition featuring dazzling larger-than-life puppets created by Pittsburgh-based artist Cheryl Capezzuti. Based on this year’s theme of “Imagination: Delivered,” Capezzuti and her talented crew will create clever humorous puppets popping out of giant envelopes. Want to help? Sign up for one of Capezzuti’s community-based workshops on December 11th and 13th, and get your hands dirty as you help design, build and decorate parade-sized puppets. Then, show up at 7:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve to get your completed puppet and dance in the parade!

Legendary singer, songwriter and entrepreneur Smokey Robinson will serve as the judge for First Night’s annual Sing-Off competition. Chosen by Robinson, the lucky young winner will perform live as an opening act during First Night 2015, and will receive cash prizes. Area students in grades 6 through 12 are eligible to enter now through Friday, December 12th.

Just announced on December 3rd are the latest updates about new venues, new attractions and a new look all on tap for First Night. Featured musical acts providing the night’s entertainment will be local brass and electronic music ensemble Beauty Slap—which boast five horns, a guitar and a DJ. Headliners are the Arista Nashville recording duo, The Swon Brothers (aka Zach and Colton), who are fresh on the heels of releasing their new single, “Pray For You.” Nominated as “Vocal Duo of the Year” at the 48th Annual CMA Awards, The Swon Brothers’ debut single, “Later On,” shot to No. 1 on iTunes’ Country Top Songs chart within 24 hours of its release. Hailing from Oklahoma, the young duo first gained national attention as finalists during Season 4 of NBC’s The Voice.

New attractions not to miss include special performances by Cello Fury, Texture Contemporary Ballet, Lee Terbosic Magic, one-man variety show Chris Ruggierro, Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, FJ Hartland’s Postcards from a Dead Dog, Arcade Comedy Theater, Player One, Aaron Kleiber and T-Robe. And if dance is your thing, check out the night’s Roland Ford line dancing, belly dancing by Cattywhomp Tribal, Indian Dance with Aparna Nigam and even Japanese sword dancing.

What’s that sound you hear? Pop into the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s galleries to experience the premiere of Toby Atticus Fraley’s The Lost Search Sound Machine in Pittsburgh, which invites visitors to discover, listen to and play old and forgotten sounds.

Those who don’t like the chill will be happy to learn that 90% of all First Night events are held indoors. Be sure to check NEXTpittsburgh’s events section for more details about 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh. For all the fun, purchase a 2015 Highmark First Night Pittsburgh button.

Looking for family activities this holiday season? Check out our Top 10 Family Adventures this December in Pittsburgh feature.