Chris Rosenblum | Thriving arts community helps build Christmas spirit in Happy Valley

I felt as though I were at a Christmas party with old friends.

Clara and Fritz Stahlbaum were there. So were their Uncle Drosselmeyer and a whole raft of familiar faces: The Mouse King, the Sugar Plum Fairy and many more.

Once again, I lost myself in the magical world of the “The Nutcracker.”

With my family Friday night at the State Theatre, I revisited a holiday favorite of mine, performed beautifully by dancers from the local studio Centre Dance. Seeing their grace and glitter, and hearing Tchaikovsky’s eternal suite, left me leaving the theater algow with Christmas cheer.

Just as much as nibbling cookies and decorating a tree, I associate the holidays with attending live performances. It started back in my childhood in Lincoln, Mass. A few Decembers, my parents took my sister and me to nearby Boston to hear the legendary conductor Arthur Fiedler in his last years directing the Boston Pops Orchestra.

I remember the thrill of getting dressed up, driving to the big city and sitting in amazement inside a symphony hall that seemed like a gilded palace. Then the white-haired, mustachioed maestro would appear to thunderous applause, and his thin baton would elicit the most fabulous Christmas music I had ever heard.

The best moment, though, the one I looked forward to every time, came at the end of “Sleigh Ride.” With perfect timing, a trumpeter would stand and bray a spot-on horse’s whinny, a marvel to my young ears.

Later in life, after we had moved to near Charlottesville, Va., every year we headed down the interstate to the Richmond Ballet’s celebrated version of “The Nutcracker.” Even at my older age, the music, dancing, costumes and sets — especially the growing Christmas tree that rises after Clara falls asleep — transported me to my early holidays, rekindling the wonder of those times.

They still do.

This season, I’ve continued my holiday tradition — with a twist for the second year. A week ago, I reprised my role as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come at the State Theatre in the musical “Scrooge!,” FUSE Production’s adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.”

But for FUSE’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I was back in the audience, smiling, laughing and thoroughly enjoying the charming live version of the holiday cartoon classic.

Both times, as with “The Nutcracker,” my family had plenty of company.

The audiences either filled the house or came close to it. It was great to see. There’s something about this time of the year that draws people to the arts, whether they’re choral concerts or full-blown musicals.

Maybe it’s because the magic of the season mirrors that of music, dance and drama: excitement, emotion, anticipation, even uncertainty. You’re not sure what’s going to happen in a live performance, anything could, and that’s a delicious feeling.

Going to a show, any show, should be a special occasion — but it doesn’t have to be saved for one.

We’re blessed with a robust arts community. Between Penn State and local organizations, we have an abundance of high-quality performances throughout the year. They give our small college town a metropolitan verve, a dimension that complements our deep affinity for sports and makes this an exciting, fulfilling place to live.

Shopping may be reaching its frenzied peak now, but take a moment from checking off people on your list and treat yourself to a gift — of a show or two or three. Make a resolution to buy a few more local tickets next year. It’ll be money well-spent, not just for entertainment and enrichment but as an investment in our common culture.

The arts speak for all of us, and we would be a lot poorer without them.

So catch a musical, play, concert or dance performance next year and reap the rewards.

You don’t have to wait for Ebenezer, the Mouse King, Snoopy or “White Christmas” to get into the Christmas spirit.