Nordic capitals ring in the season of good will in Europe with comforting Christmas fairs and parades, while in the south, La Scala breaks with elitism to broadcast its first opera of the season live to Milan. Politics meets art in London, where a new play explores the summer riots that rocked the capital, a Paris show exposes the colonial-era roots of racism, while the Nobel Peace Prize concert strikes a hopeful year-end note in Oslo.
Following are some of the best of what's on in Europe in December.
ART: Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Zurich, explores the varied depictions of winter in Western art in a show three years in the making, with 180 works from 1450 to the present, from Bruegel to Beuys, Van Goyen to Van Gogh, and Monet to Munch. To 8 January.
ART: The Belvedere Museum, already home to the largest collection worldwide of oil paintings by Gustav Klimt, pays tribute to the Austrian artist and interior designer Josef Hoffmann, showing their common vision of an art meant to touch all spheres of life, kicking off Klimt Year 2012. To 4 March.
THEATRE: Musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's popular book for children "Matilda" staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company with music and lyrics by popular British comedian and musician Tim Minchin. The story of a little girl with an amazing imagination was a sell-out success at The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon and has now transferred to London's West End, where early reviews have been strong. The cast includes three rotating teams of eight children.At the Cambridge Theatre, until October 2012.
THEATRE: Three months after the riots which rocked London and other British cities, the Tricycle Theatre in London tackles the subject by conducting its own "investigation" pieced together from 50 hours of testimony. "The Riots" describes the looters and rioters who ran amok for four nights in August, grabbing televisions, laptops and training shoes from ransacked shops and, in some places, setting fire to buildings. It attempts to show the unrest through the eyes of policemen, community workers and rioters themselves. At the Tricycle Theatre, London, until 10 December.
EXHIBITION: Six decades of work by groundbreaking British designer Terence Conran, whose products and retailing style transformed the interior design industry, are shown at a major exhibition at the Design Museum in London. The art school dropout began making furniture in the 1940s and his modern and affordable home designs were credited with lifting British homes out of post-war gloom. He became a household name in Britain after he founded revolutionary retailer Habitat in 1964. At the Design Museum until 4 March, 2012.
ART: Outspoken Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who disappeared into custody for 81 days earlier this year, goes on show at Denmark's Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, north of Copenhagen. Three monumental installations – Forever (2003), Fountain of Light (2007) and Trees (2009-2010) – are shown alongside a series of films and a recorded interview with the artist. Runs until February 2012.
CHRISTMAS MARKET: Copenhagen's Tivoli gardens hosts a Russian-themed Christmas market, with a scale model of Moscow's onion-domed Saint Basil's cathedral, sound and music shows, parades and concerts, and an English-language show for children, "Crazy Christmas cabaret – below the (equatorial) belt." Every night until 30 December, from 6pm.
CONCERT: The Musicians of the King's Road perform Nelson's Mass by Georg Friedrich Handel, conducted by Markus Yli-Jokipii at a traditional Christmas concert at the Turku Cathedral in south-western Finland, on 4 December, at 7pm. Advance bookings recommended.
CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL: Eat seasonal rice porridge and give your wish list to Santa, whom Finns claim as one of their own, at Helsinki's traditional Christmas Path festival. At the Seurasaari Open-Air Museum on 11 December, from 1pm to 5pm.
DANCE: Andy Warhol dreamed of being a tap dancer, Pablo Picasso married a Russian ballerina, Henri Matisse used to visit acrobats in cabarets and Jackson Pollock painted twirling on the ground like a shaman: a new exhibit at Paris' Pompidou Centre explores the profound influence of dance on other art forms. "Danser Sa Vie" (“Dancing Life”) brings together some 450 exhibits, with films and videos of seminal 20th-century choreographies set alongside paintings, drawings, photography and sculpture. Runs until 2 April.
HISTORY: Paris' museum of tribal arts looks back at how men, women and children from Africa, Oceania or America were exhibited to the European public, from the 16th- to the mid 20th-centuries, in circuses, fairs and even zoos. "Exhibitions: the invention of the savage," at the Quai Branly museum, shows how labelling them "savages" helped justify colonial rule, and tries to restore some dignity, centuries on, to the victims of the practice. Until 3 June.
ART: "Satiricon" explores the legacy of the prolific French artist and caricaturist Tomi Ungerer, who turned 80 this month, and whose work ranges from children's illustrations to erotica. The exhibit at Frankfurt's Caricatura Museum features some 11,000 drawings and posters, most of them satirical. Runs until 18 March.
http://www.caricatura-museum.de/index.php?article_id=18 (in German)
FILM: Colin Firth and "The King's Speech" lead the nominations at the 24th European Film Awards, returning to Berlin for the first time since 2007. Last year, "The Ghost Writer" by Roman Polanski picked up best film and best director awards, while the film's star Ewan McGregor was named best actor. Other categories include Best Animated Feature Film, Best Short Film and Best Composer. On 3 December.
OPERA: La Scala opera house's season opens on 7 December with none of the usual complimentary tickets and with a performance of "Don Giovanni" broadcast live throughout the city of Milan, in line with new times of austerity.
CHRISTMAS: Pope Benedict XVI uses a tablet computer to switch on the lights of what has been dubbed the world's biggest Christmas tree – a massive light display covering a hillside near the medieval town of Gubbio. On 7 December.
MUSIC: The Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo pays tribute to this year's laureates, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, compatriot "peace warrior" Leymah Gbowee and Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman. Acts by Sugarland, David Gray, Jill Scott, Janelle Monae and the World Youth Choir headline the event on 11 December in the capital's Spektrum concert hall.
ART: Still lives and their changing place in late 19th- and early 20th-century European painting are at the heart of a new exhibit at Lisbon's Gulbenkian Foundation. Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Magritte, Dali and Matisse are among around 70 artists exhibited at "The perspective of things," which runs until 8 January.
ART: Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum puts on display some 75 original items left on the barren arctic island of Nova Zembla by Dutch explorer Willem Barentsz and his crew, after they were stranded for the winter in 1597 while trying to discover a passage to China. Until 27 February.
OPERA: Russia's Bolshoi Theatre stages Mussorgsky's classic opera Boris Godunov in an unprecedented revival of a production first shown in the Stalin era in 1948. Performances to 4 December.
ART: Moscow's Pushkin museum shows off the most significant collection of pictures by Italian master Caravaggio ever exhibited in Russia, all on loan from museums in Italy, including masterpieces like The Entombment of Christ and Supper at Emmaus. To February.
ART: Madrid's Prado Museum hosts The Hermitage in the Prado, a selection of 120 artworks from Russia's State Hermitage Museum, including paintings by Caravaggio, Velasquez and Picasso. To 25 March.
THEATRE: US film star Viggo Mortensen stars on stage alongside Spanish actress Carme Elias in "Purgatorio," a two-handed psychological drama by playwright Ariel Dorfman. Matadero Madrid arts centre, Madrid. To 18 December.
CHRISTMAS: 13 December is Lucia Day in Sweden, celebrated to bring light to one of the darkest days of the year and a highlight of the Christmas season. Young "Lucias" wear candles in their hair and long white robes with a red sash, singing Christmas carols at traditional concerts and processions in churches, schools and public locations around the country. Big Lucia concerts will be held in Stockholm at the open-air museum Skansen and at the Engelbrekts Church.
CHRISTMAS ARCHITECTURE: Stockholm's Architecture Museum shows off its annual gingerbread house exhibition, this year on the theme: "Pride and Prejudice: Bake your own pride and burn a few sad prejudices." From 30 November to 10 December, members of the public vote on their favourite house, rewarded with a prize on 11 December. Runs until 8 January.