Here’s an early Christmas event that’s fun, free and an invitation to spread holiday cheer to children. Gather the family and head downtown for “Santa Meets Sousa,” a Marine Corps Band concert at 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, at the Saenger Theatre, 1111 Canal St.

Reserved-seating tickets will be available beginning at 10 a.m. the day of the concert at the Saenger box office. Doors will open at 5 p.m., and Marines will be in the lobby to collect new, unwrapped toys for their annual Toys for Tots drive.

“The donations are greatly appreciated,” said Chief Warrant Officer Michael J. Smith, officer in charge and principal conductor of the band. “The toys will help less fortunate children in the New Orleans area have a brighter Christmas.”

The concert features the music of John Philip Sousa, an American composer known for his military and patriotic marches. Sousa, who lived from 1854 to 1932, was a member of the Marine band and served as its director for 12 years.

“Sousa didn’t write any Christmas music, but we are doing a medley as if he had,” Smith said. The concert is a 1½ hour holiday production “that will fly by with something everyone will find special,” he said.

The variety show of characters and music will be performed by the 50-member Marine Corps band, including a wind, jazz and New Orleans-style brass band. The Saenger partnered with Chevron and the Marine Forces Reserve to bring the annual concert to the famed Canal Street venue.

“The concert is our gift,” Smith said. “And in return, people can bring unwrapped gifts for kids. Everybody will win that night.”

For information about USMC Toys for Tots of New Orleans, including toy drop sites, and how to request toys, visit new-orleans-la.toysfortots.org.

‘Nutcracker’ tradition

It took two years to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but in December 2007, the students of Lelia Haller Ballet Classique took the stage to perform their rendition of Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” which Haller first presented in the 1950s.

The performance has grown in size and splendor over the years, leading to the creation of the non-profit organization Ballet Louisiane, with a mission to better serve the community by spreading the joy of dance each holiday season.

Ballet Louisiane will present “The Nutcracker” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 11, and at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at the Jesuit High School auditorium, 4133 Banks St.

The production will include performances by Kimberly Matulich-Beck (Sugar Plum Fairy), Diogo de Lima (Cavalier), Sophia Shahlaei (Clara), Scott Sauber (Nutcracker), Edward R. Cox (Drosselmeier), Lara Grice (Mother Ginger) and Cheryl O’Sullivan (Russian variation).

Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for children 11 and younger, and can be purchased online at lhballet.com; at the Ballet Classique studio, 4916 Canal St.; at the gift shop at East Jefferson General Hospital; and before the performance. For information call (504) 482-0038.

St. Lucy veneration

A relic of St. Lucy, a Christian martyr from Sicily known as the protector of sight and patron saint of those suffering eye afflictions, will be offered for veneration following a Mass at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 12, at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 1139 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.

People of all faiths are welcome, said Mae Webb, president of the St. Lucy Society. This is the 88th annual St. Lucy Mass at the church, known for its golden steeple and stained-glass windows. About 200 people are expected to attend, and The Rev. Randy P. Roux will celebrate the Mass.

According to medieval history, St. Lucy’s eyes were gouged out before she was executed in 304 A.D. Her feast day is Dec. 13. A statue of the saint stands in the vestibule of St. John the Baptist Church, where a reception will take place after the veneration.

Webb, 83, said the St. Lucy Society was started many years ago by a “group of Sicilian ladies.” Three generations of her family have been members, she said, and her nephew keeps the relic safely contained in a gold and glass case.

The veneration service includes a song honoring St. Lucy that is “very, very touching,” Webb said.

Lynne Jensen writes about New Orleans community events and people. Contact her at jensencolumn@gmail.com.