'Tis the season to be jolly. Also cranky, wacky, mousy, reverent, dim-witted, jubilant and nostalgic. And once in a while, Jesus gets a look-in.
The December parade of holiday-themed plays begins Tuesday with a nun solving a mystery and ends New Year's Day with folks celebrating the mystery of Christ's birth. You can't tell the players without a scorecard, so here's a catalog of 13 area Christmas shows.
Dec. 1-20: "Sister's Christmas Catechism," subtitled "The Mystery of the Magi's Gold." A nun uses "CSI" skills in this comedy to find out what happened to the gift a wise man brought to the stable. Assisted by a local choir and audience members, she creates a living nativity scene - sort of. Booth Playhouse, Performing Arts Center. 704-372-1000, www.blumenthal center.org .
Dec. 3-13: A new production of "A Christmas Carol," adapted by John Jakes from the novel by Charles Dickens. Kevin Campbell stars as Scrooge, the miser who learns to share the joy of the season. Theatre Charlotte, 704-376-3777, wwwtheater charlotte.org .
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Dec. 3-Jan. 1 : Narroway Productions has two shows in repertory, "The Real Christmas Story" and "A Stranger for Christmas." (In fact, the first is already running.) "Real" is partly a celebration of secular joy, partly a retelling of the old nativity tale; "Stranger" is based on the book by Carol Lynn Pearson, in which a family takes in a little old lady. 803-802-2300, 704-831-8893, www.narroway.net.
Dec. 3-13 : "A Tuna Christmas." Joe Sears and Jason Williams' comedy gets its fourth production by Carolina Actors Studio Theatre - this time, at Spirit Square. Two actors play 22 characters in tiny, loony Tuna, Texas, where aliens seem to be interrupting the seasonal festivities. 704-455-8542, www.nccast.com.
Dec. 3-20: "It's A Wonderful Life." Davidson Community Players perform James Rodgers' dramatization of Frank Capra's holiday movie about the restoration of an Everyman's faith in humanity. 704-892-7953 or 704-892-7918, www .davidsoncommunityplayers.org .
Dec. 4-13 : "The Christmas Bus." Robert Inman's gentle drama throws together an orphanage director with a good heart, a sheriff with an interfering agenda and a traveling troubadour who's been trying his luck as a folk singer. Rock Hill Community Theatre has linked the play to the town's Christmas parade (Dec. 4) and an Inman book signing (Dec. 5). 803-324-2578, www.rockhilltheatre.org.
Dec. 4-29 : "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies." This is only half-seasonal, but Children's Theatre of Charlotte is doing this adaptation of Laura Numeroff's picture books "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies" and "Merry Christmas, Mouse." 704-973-2828, www.ctcharlotte.org.
Dec. 5 : "Christmas at the Abbey." Music and readings related to the season by the Abbey Players, the theatrical company at Belmont Abbey. 704-461-6787, www.belmont abbeycollege.edu.
Dec. 10-20: "The Santaland Diaries." Actor's Theatre of Charlotte brings back David Sedaris' one-man show about a disgruntled elf named Crumpet, who reveals the inner workings of Macy's Santaland at the most stressful season of the year. Joe Rux stars. 704-342-2251, www .actorstheatrecharlotte.org .
Dec. 11-23 : "'Tis the Season." Tarradiddle Players' compilation of holiday stories embraces Christianity, Judaism and Native American lore in a play aimed at audiences ages 3 and up. 704-973-2828, www.ctcharlotte.org.
Dec. 18-20: Langston Hughes' "Black Nativity: A Gospel Song Play" gets a run at Great Aunt Stella Center. The production company Tomorrow's R.O.A.D will use an "all-youth" cast in this blend of narration, dance and classic and contemporary gospel numbers, as Hughes retells the beloved Nativity story. www.blacknativity.eventbrite .com .
Dec. 18-20 : "A Broadway Christmas Carol." Kathy Feininger's reimagining of Dickens' tale includes song parodies of Broadway hits. (Think Tiny Tim and "Annie.") The Actors Scene Unseen version stars Kimberly Butler, Steven Martin and Kevin Roberge and will take place at the Mint Museum of Art's Van Every Forum. 702-372-1000, www.carolinatix.org.