DOWNTOWN — For 8-year-old Matthew Abraham, Christmas means more than a decorated tree, opening presents and spending time with his family.
It also means the third-grader and Skokie native is on stage almost every night through Dec. 28 for the Goodman Theatre's annual production of "A Christmas Carol."
"It brings a little more joy and caring because you're with a lot of other people all the time," said Matthew, who is playing Tiny Tim for the second year in a row.
Matthew said "A Christmas Carol" is a "wonderful play" and "full of love."
Ron Rains — who plays Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim's father in the play — said the play is steeped in tradition, and because the actors and musicians spend so much time with each other around the holidays, they form a kind of second family.
"This family on stage gets to be a family of our own, a family of cast members," said Rains, who is in his seventh season in the production.
Rains said in addition to spending time together during rehearsals and performances, the cast gets together for a secret Santa gift exchange and a potluck, and the actors go head to head in a dressing room-decorating competition.
"There are songs and skits, stuff like that," said Rains, who lives in Logan Square.
To add to the theatrics of the season, the cast also gathers for after-play parties in the Goodman Theatre's mezzanine.
"The musicians from the show will play music, and we'll have a singalong," said Rains. "It's not just the play that we do together. It's really beautiful."
Matthew said his favorite performance is on Christmas Eve.
"I think [the audience] takes it in because it's on Christmas Eve, and the play is [set] on Christmas Eve," Matthew said. "It makes it a lot more fun to actually see the play on the day it's happening."
"That is the time, that is the day that the whole story happens," Rains said. "So that is the most beautiful one."
Rains said the cast has special traditions around the Christmas Eve performance — a castwide warm-up, a song they sing only that night, and Rains makes applesauce from scratch that the Cratchit family eats on stage.
Rains and Matthew agree the audience seems to be even more enraptured on Christmas Eve than any other performance — possibly the work of the Christmas spirit.
"There's something palpable in the audience," Rains said. "That's why I love theater, because you can feel everyone around you, and there's a feeling that between the audience and the people on stage that you don't get watching a movie."