The tradition of festive Christmas celebrations came along a couple of hundred years too late for Shakespeare, who never made much of the yuletide season in his plays or poems.
But for the past four years that has not deterred Shakespeare Orange County from staging "A Shakespearean Christmas."
The group's fifth annual show, which opens Thursday and is subtitled "A Midwinter Night's Dream," does take a thematic hint from one of the few direct references to Christmas in Shakespeare's canon:
Some say that ever, 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long."
And so, along with poetry and prose by everyone from Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Ogden Nash to Robert Frost and Anne Frank, there will be plenty of singing, from seasonal wassails to bebop scatting.
"We've always had some really lovely bittersweet moments and some comedy," says Michael Nehring, who is directing the eclectic show again and also appearing in it.
"This year I think there's a bit more comedy, and we're taking advantage of some really terrific voices this year. So there will be more singing than before."
Of course, even a Shakespearean Christmas is not complete without something from Charles Dickens. As in previous years, one of the show's intended highlights will be a dramatization of a scene on a snowy evening from "The Pickwick Papers."
"The show evolves like a stew from year to year," says SOC artistic director Thomas Bradac. "We keep certain constants--Clement C. Moore's ' 'Twas the Night Before Christmas,' for example, things like that. But we add new ingredients each year and subtract others."
Members of the SOC company returning as principals for this year's production, in addition to Nehring, include Carl Reggiardo, John Frederick Jones, Eve Himmelheber and Bridget Connors.
* What: Shakespeare Orange County's "A Shakespearean Christmas: A Midwinter Night's Dream"
* When: Today through Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; Monday, 8 p.m.
* Where: Chapman University's Waltmar Theatre, 301 E. Palm St., Orange.
* Whereabouts: Exit the Costa Mesa (55) freeway at Chapman, go west, turn north onto Tustin and west onto Palm.
* Wherewithal: $16-$20.
* Where to call: (714) 744-7016.