Like all holiday (and other) traditions, the annual Holiday Pops concert is not about experiencing the new and different, but experiencing the old and familiar again. So, that annual event now heading into its fifth decade, and once again featuring the combined forces of the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, kicked off at Symphony Hall on Wednesday evening and followed its usual path.
The serious business of reminding us of the foundational purpose of Christmas was up front, via the invariable, magnificent presence of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” (followed shortly thereafter by a nod to Hanukkah that injected some klezmer into the classical bent of the program’s first half), and the giddy fun of singing along came at the end.
In between, other old friends stopped by — the Pops’ “name that song” version of “the Twelve Days of Christmas,” the collage of various carols from which “A Christmas Scherzo” is constructed, and the concert’s signature piece, the evergreen “Sleigh Ride,” which prompted the loudest applause of the evening.
Of course, part of the Holiday Pops tradition is adding a few wrinkles each year to go along with the venerable and not so venerable, especially those jokes that Santa drops in without fail; this time, it was an extended riff on talking to his iPhone’s Siri, or rather, a North Pole version he called “Dearie” because it used Mrs. Claus’s voice. Conductor Keith Lockhart got in on the schtick this year, too, at several points bringing the ham to his promotion of the Pops’ new, and first-ever, holiday CD.
Actor Will LeBow, who lent his declamatory powers to a splendid narrative-musical take on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” two Decembers ago, came by again to bring a modern classic, “The Polar Express,” to vivid life.
And the perennial reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” brought a surprise, and local flavor, too. When Mayor-elect Martin J. Walsh walked on stage to read the Clement C. Moore chestnut, an old tradition met the beginning of a new era in Boston.