The arrival of the holiday season triggers many rituals, from taking the Christmas tree ornaments out of their boxes in the garage to rigging festive lights on the eaves of the house.

For many Northern California families, a trip to San Francisco also is a tradition, for an annual shot of The City's special Christmas-time magic.

Here are some destinations and events sure to get everyone into the holiday mood:

Everybody skate! Few pastimes capture the charm of the holiday season as completely as outdoor skating, with brightly garbed skaters gliding across the ice. San Francisco offers two major outdoor venues for winter skating.

The Safeway Holiday Ice Rink in Union Square is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. through Jan. 20, with a 9:30 p.m. closing time Dec. 31. Tickets cost $11, or $7 for ages 8 and younger. Skate rental costs $5. 415-781-2688,

The Embarcadero Ice Skating Rink at Justin Herman Plaza is open from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with 90-minute sessions starting on every even hour, through Jan. 5. Admission costs $10, or $6 for children age 7 and younger. Skate rental costs $4. 415-837-1931,

"The Nutcracker." On Christmas Eve, 1944, the San Francisco Ballet presented the American premiere of this classic, set to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Since then, annual productions of "The Nutcracker" have become a holiday tradition across the nation. The San Francisco Ballet presents its production, set in the City by the Bay, through Dec. 29 at the War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco. $50-$250. 415-865-2000;

"A Christmas Carol." Bay Area veteran actor James Carpenter returns as Ebenezer Scrooge and Ken Ruta reprises his role as the Ghost of Jacob Marley in the American Conservatory Theater production of Charles Dickens' spirited story of a miser's redemption. The show, a 37-year tradition for the theater company, runs through Dec. 28 at A.C.T.'s Geary Theater. 415 Geary St., San Francisco. $20-$95. 415-749-2228,

Circque Du Soleil. The touring troupe presents its latest artful circus experience, "Amaluna," about a mysterious island ruled by powerful women, in the Grand Chapiteau tent at AT&T Park on the San Francisco waterfront through Jan. 12. $55-$135.

21st annual Kung Pao Kosher Comedy. Citing the longstanding Jewish tradition of combining comedy, Christmas and Chinese food, comedians Gary Gulman, Adrianne Tolsch, Samson Koletkar and Lisa Geduldig will perform at dinner shows from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and cocktail shows from 9:30 to 11 p.m. Dec. 24-26 at the New Asia restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave., in San Francisco's Chinatown. Dinner shows include a set seven-course meal and cost $64. Cocktail shows cost $44. 925-855-1986,

You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at 521-5243 or See his ARTS blog at http://arts.blogs.

Shelters for Pawnee fire evacuees

Lower Lake High School, 9430 Lake St., Lower Lake, is the official shelter established for people evacuating from the Pawnee fire. It is equipped to handle animals.

The Clearlake Oaks Moose Lodge, 15900 E. Highway 20, Clearlake Oaks, is not authorized by the Office of Emergency Services but is also sheltering fire evacuees, mostly people in campers and RVs who want their animals with them.

There is an authorized Lake County animal services station in an open field at Highway 53 and Anderson Ridge Road in Lower Lake.