xmasconcertsSanta Basie: Returning to the stage for Christmas are (clockwise from top left) Tim McLoone and Holiday Express; Nancy Scharff; Glen Burtnik, and Mark Shapiro with the Monmouth Civic Chorus.

It’s official: with a ceremonial flip of the switch last Friday night — and a weathery weekend of holiday-themed activities immediately following — Red Bank once again took the local lead in calling another Season of Lights to luminous life.

With December bringing up the calendar caboose, the borough merely picks up steam, offering up a full complement of Christmas and Chanukah events and activities from now right on up to the doorstep of New Year’s Eve.

Continuing every Saturday through December 18 are the outdoor jinglebell jukebox known as Holiday Harmonies and the clip-clop-and-shop of the Red Bank Horse and Carriage Rides. The Galleria offers Pictures with Santa photo ops each weekend through December 19, and the annual Gingerbread Walk promotion continues at participating borough businesses through December 26.

You can find out more about these ongoing offerings from Red Bank RiverCenter — and continue reading to unwrap our roundup package of holiday concerts, lighting ceremonies, fundraisers, stage shows and other events, in and around the greater Red Bank green.

zebu-gingerbreadDante Valer of Holmdel snaps a pic of Trish LoSasso’s gingerbread creation at Zebu Forno.

SPECIAL EVENTS in Red Bank and other local towns

Christmas in Ireland. The Presbyterian Church at Shrewsbury is the setting for two festive sessions of homemade food, handmade crafts, “nearly new” gifts, photos with Santa, jewelry, poinsettias, books, toys, live music, and more. December 3 (5:30-8p) and December 4 (9:30a-2:30p)

Sea Bright Tree Lighting. The third annual tree lighting commences — post-storm restoration of power permitting — with caroling (featuring Santa & Mrs. Claus) plus light snacks and hot beverages inside the firehouse. December 3 at 7p

Holiday Open House in Fair Haven. Fair Haven Business Association (in cooperation with the Fair Haven Fire Company) and town individuals hosts a day of holiday themed activities between 1 and 9p, including Santa’s arrival by fire truck for a tree lighting in Memorial Park (5p), the Community Band of Two Rivers concert (4:30p), digital photos by Visual Xpressions and a menorah lighting near the Acme shopping plaza. Wacky-weather date is December 11; call 732.747.0241 or 732.747.9339 for more info and updates. December 4 from 1p

West Side Community Tree Lighting. On the left bank of Red Bank, there’s also the Westside Community Group’s annual tree lighting ceremony, going on at 4p on Saturday, December 4 at Westside Park (northwest corner of Shrewsbury Avenue and Drs. James Parker Boulevard); a happening that features caroling students, a visit from St. Nick and more surprises. December 4 at 4p

Chanukah Festival in Red Bank. Congregation Beth Shalom invites all area Jews to a Chanukah celebration on December 5, with a menorah lighting, kids’ crafts and activities (including Dreidel spinning games) and traditional holiday fare (including latkes and chocolate coins). Contact for more info. December 5 at 2:30p

Middletown Tree Lighting and Holiday Extravaganza. The township’s second annual free holiday tree lighting event takes place at the Middletown Arts Center (MAC), adjacent to the train station on Church Street. Featured are family photo ops with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, plus hot cocoa, cookies, crafts, carols and the exclusive NJ performance of the eclectic wind ensemble known as TubaChristmas. December 5 at 5p

Rumson Tree Lighting. Tim McLoone and the Shirleys do the honors once again as the borough lights up the official tree, with the Rumson- Fair Haven Regional High School Tower Singers and select members of Holiday Express also on hand. Victory Park, December 5 at 5:30p

Menorah Lighting in Red Bank. the lighting of the Menorah takes place at 6p on the plaza outside station stop Red Bank, corner of Bridge Avenue and Monmouth Street. December 5 at 6p

NovelTeas Chanukah Cafe. Novel Teas  Authors, Aromas & Gifts on Bridge Avenue welcomes Rabbi Laibel Schapiro in a free event on “Discovering the Mystical Meaning of Chanukah.” Traditional treats will be served, and attendees are invited to “bring your own menorah for blessing.” December 6 at 7:30p/ FREE

Middletown Arts Snow Ball. The Middletown Arts Center (MAC) hosts a big Spotlight Event social for fans, students and members of the community. Dance students will perform “Dancing with the Stars style” in formats ranging from ballroom and Latin to bellydance — and professional ballroom champs will strut their stuff as well. December 10 at 7p

GO GREEN FOR THE HOLIDAYS exhibit and Storyteller Joan Jannerone. The Monmouth Museum‘s annual holiday celebration continues with a free session of Stories of Festival Feasts. The display of decorated trees, railroad layout and crafts continues during regular gallery hours through January 3, 2011. December 12 at 2p

SNAPPY-LOOKING HOUSES. Back again for another sweet round of holiday housing starts is the now-traditional Gingerbread Walk, presented by RiverCenter and featuring the candy-bedecked creations of some of the area’s best bakers, caterers and restaurant kitchens. Shoppers are invited to view this year’s “house tour” at 11 participating Red Bank businesses — with a chance to enter a special Grand Prize Raffle at each stop. Prize package includes an overnight hotel stay at the Oyster Point Hotel, tickets to the Count Basie Theatre and a $300 Red Bank Gift Cheque shopping spree. As always, the more participating stores you visit the more chances to win — and, if you visit all the stops on the tour, you have a chance to win an additional $50 in Red Bank Gift Cheques (all donations collected at each location benefit Holiday Express).

Participating stores are:

Carter & Cavero Old World Olive Oil Company, 19 Monmouth Street

CEL-ebration! Gallery, 30 Monmouth Street

Front Street Trattoria, 31 West Front Street

NovelTeas, 78 Bridge Avenue

Pierre Deux, 105 Broad Street

Ricky’s of Red Bank, 86 Broad Street

Riverbank Antiques, 169 West Front Street

Summit Arts and Music, 62 Monmouth Street

Tiffany & Co., 105 Broad Street

Vizzini & Company, The Galleria, 2-40 Bridge Avenue

Zebu Forno, 20 Broad Street

nutbellconchSeen in and around the Greater Green this December: The Company of Dance Arts NUTCRACKER; The Calvin and Chapel Handbell Ringers; The Concordia Chorale.

MUSIC: Pop, Classical, Whatever

Holiday Doo Wop Spectacular at the Count Basie. Multigenerational faves Larry Chance and The Earls return to the local stage for a package show of streetcorner Santa standards (with a welcome bit of New Orleans seasonings this time out), joined at the Basie by Jay Siegel and The Tokens, Frankie Ford, Kenny Vance & the Planotones and special guest, the inimitable Clarence Frogman Henry. December 4 at 7:30pm/ $35 – $45

The Calvin and Chapel Handbell Ringers at MTPL.  Middletown Township Public Library hosts the resident bellringer choir from Red Bank’s Tower Hill Presbyterian Church, with the group of area high school students performing a program of popular and sacred selections under the direction of Adam Peithmann. December 5 at 2p

Concordia Chorale in Red Bank and Lincroft. The Chorale (under the co-direction of that other musical Springsteen, soprano Cynthia) visits Holy Trinity Lutheran Church on River Road, and Middletown United Methodist Church on Middletown-Lincroft Road, for a program that includes works by Vaughan Williams, Reznick and other seasonal selections. Free will offering accepted; call 732.495.2066 for info. December 6 at 8p (Red Bank); December 12 at 4p (Lincroft)

NJ Chamber Singers in Shrewsbury. The NJCS visits Christ Church Shrewsbury for a program that includes works by Vaughan Williams, Morten Lauridsen and familiar carols. Free will offering accepted; call 732.389.5429 for info. December 11 at 8p/ $20

Holiday Express at Count Basie Theatre. Tim McLoone and his musical force of nature and nurture return to the Basie for their 18th annual set of concert appearances, all in benefit of the nonprofit, nondenominational organization that brings light to the darkest corners of our neighborhoods this time of year. December 15 and 16 at 7:30p/ $25 – $100

Nancy Scharff’s Christmas Is Love Concert at the Count Basie. Middletown’s own world-traveling Christian music artist Nancy Scharff presents another in her successful series of holiday-season concerts; a show that gets bigger each year even as it remains true to her abilities to work any space from community-room to cathedral. The program of sacred classics and Scharff originals is performed with the help of an orchestra, Childrens Choir and Gospel Choir. It’s a benefit for Love INC and other local charities; attendees are asked to bring non-perishable food items for needy families in the area. December 17 at 7:30p/ $15 – $25

Jazz Piano for the Holidays. Pianist Christina Blalock performs in a free afternoon recital at the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury. December 18 at 3p

Glen Burtnik’s Xmas Xtravaganza at the Count Basie. Jersey music phenom Burtnik — an alumnus of Styx, major label recording artist and hit songwriter (“Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”) is the sort of guy who can always get a world-class pickup band together with a few well-placed phone calls. His dependably sold-out and ever-burgeoning holiday jams at the Basie have drawn the participation of everyone from Patty Smyth to Patti Smith, to say nothing of John Waite, Marshall Crenshaw, Phoebe Snow, Fred Schneider and even John McEnroe. Always entertaining and full of surprises, the program is an all-volunteer event for which attendees are invited to donate warm clothing, new toys and non-perishable food items. December 18 at 8pm/ $20 – $45

The Peckmore Players Holiday Concert in Shrewsbury. The flute ensemble visits the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury, for a Sunday Sounds concert spotlighting Music of the Holidays. Call 1.866.941.8188 for info. December 19 at 2:30p

Monmouth Civic Chorus: Handel’s MESSIAH. Dr. Mark Shapiro and the MCC return once more to their very first concert program, a work of which it’s been said “it won’t be Christmas in Red Bank without it.” The full ensemble with soloists and chamber orchestra perform Handel’s oratorio in its entirety at the Count Basie Theatre. December 19 at 4p/ $25 – $45

STAGE and Kids’ Events

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. The classic Frank Capra film is adapted “1940s radio play” style by the Stone Church Players, and performed at All Saints Memorial Church (the historic landmark ‘Old Stone Church’) in the Navesink section of Middletown. December 4 and 5, 2p and 5p/ $5

Breakfast with Santa in Shrewsbury. The Shrewsbury Hose Company and Ladies Auxiliary present a chance to start your day with special guest Santa Claus, with photo ops available for additional donation. Contact for more info. December 5, 9a to noon/ $6 (kids under 2 free)

A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Count Basie. The Nebraska Theatre Caravan touring company visits Red Bank for the first time, with an adaptation of the Dickens classic that boasts 28 players, a live orchestra and a score of period carols that include “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Here We Come A’Wassailing.” December 5 at 3p/ $25 – $45

Company of Dance Arts: THE NUTCRACKER. A Red Bank holiday signifier at the Basie for over 20 years. The students of CODA perform the Tchaikovsky ballet in a colorfully lavish production augmented by local professionals and guest soloists from major New York companies. Dancers will also be performing excerpts from the production at the Monmouth County Library Eastern Branch in Shrewsbury, during a Holiday Dance on the afternoon of December 11. December 11-12 at 2:30 and 7p/ $15 – $35

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Radio Play. Novel Teas  Authors, Aromas & Gifts on Bridge Avenue hosts a ‘radio show’ style performance of the holiday chestnut, with a cast of five actors portraying over 20 Dickensian characters. Attendees are invited to bring an unwrapped toy for donation to the local charity Middletown Helps Its Own. December 11 at 7p/ FREE

Breakfast with Santa featuring Miss Sherri. Honey Child Music‘s Miss Sherri and the Little Animal Band visit River’s Edge Café in Red Bank for a special “Jingle Jangle Breakfast” event that boasts full buffet breakfast for kids and parents (ages 2 and under are free), plus a “super rockin’ children’s concert,” goodie bags and a visit from Big Red himself. A portion of photo prceds go to the Michael Worosila Foundation, dedicated to a 5 year old leukemia patient from Monmouth County. Seating is limited; call 732.741.7198 to reserve. December 18, 10a / $19.99 adults, $12 ages 3-9 (kids under 2 free)

BLACK NATIVITY at the Count Basie. Producer and director Darryl Lawrence Willis Sr. brings his Monmouth County based Dunbar Repertory Company to the Basie boards for the first time, with a new staging of his Christmas theatrical presentation (a ‘song play’ based on the Gospel of St. Luke and the poetry of Langston Hughes) that’s been a local tradition in seasons past. December 30 at 7:30p/ $19.50 – $24.50