On Saturday, Dec. 10, local activist opera company White Snake Projects will debut their latest production at GBH: "Let's Celebrate: Living Holiday Traditions in America." Opera fans will be treated to four original compositions that will explore the diverse holiday cultural practices of the artists within the White Snake Projects community. Cerise Lim Jacobs, opera maker and the founding artistic director of White Snake Projects, joined host Arun Rath on All Things Considered to discuss. This transcript has been edited lightly.

Arun Rath: I am super excited to talk with you about this show. My own feeling, I'll give my point of view, is that I think Christmas and the holidays are, by definition, multicultural. My family is multicultural and I love opera, so I'm super excited. I want to hear what you have cooked up for us. Tell us what's going to be in the show.

Cerise Lim Jacobs: This is fantastic. And I loved the fact that you said that for you, Christmas is multicultural, and so it should be. However, I think most of the holiday programing around this time is a lot of sameness. In other words, it's all centered around Judeo-Christian traditions, whereas as you know, Boston and all of America is very, very diverse with many different ethnic communities that have their own significant holiday celebrations necessarily during this time, throughout the year. And so what we want to do is to celebrate some of these diverse holiday traditions and introduce them to our neighbors and our friends and to the American audience so that we understand how rich American culture really is.

So there are four short stories that will be featured. We do start off with "Rosa," which explores the story of a young girl who discovers her origins as a child separated from her parents at the borders, through the Day of the Dead, when she invokes her dead mother. And then the next piece is called "Braided Light," and that celebrates a Jewish holiday called Havdalah. Now, many people know about Hanukkah, but not many people know about Havdalah. And this is a wonderful, uplifting story about the celebration. And then the third show is called "Firecrackers." And, you know, that's a dead giveaway. When do you have firecrackers? In Chinatown during the Lunar New Year, right on the Spring Festival, which is celebrated by Asians all over the world and including right here in Boston.

And then we close the show with "Samiir's Feast," which is a true story of Samiir Mohamed, who was forced to flee Somalia at the age of 15. And he made his way through Kenya to Brazil. And then he walked all the way to the Mexican border, where he was detained and put into a group home in Boston. And that's where I met him and interviewed him. And we wrote the story together. And it celebrates Eid al Adha, celebrated by Muslims all over the world. So Samiir compares his first Christmas in America to his celebration of Eid back in Somalia. And it's an incredibly moving story.

Rath: It sounds wonderful. And, you know, as you mentioned, the holidays are, by their definition, multicultural. These stories are out there. How is it that that this has only come together now? What what led to this performance coming together?

Lim Jacobs: I have always dreamt of replicating my childhood growing up in Singapore, which is a truly multicultural, diverse society where we celebrated each other's holidays. So in Singapore, we have four main ethnic groups, the European people, the Dutch, English and Germans and French, [who] colonized Asia. Then we have the local Malay culture, the Indian culture, the Chinese culture, Southeast Asian cultures from Vietnam and so on and so forth. And we all have different holidays and we all celebrate them. And there was always pageantry and parades, and food and parties.

And I thought to myself, wouldn't be wonderful for Americans to experience this all in one show, experience that diversity of power, of life and celebrating the differences, which really, when it boils down to, are really so much similarity in these differences. So that's what inspired it. And I've dreamt of it of many years. And finally, this is the inaugural series. This is the first time we're going to do this, and we hope to do this every year as an annual series.

"We want to open up the door for the creation of new art, which reflects who we are as Americans."
-Cerise Lim Jacobs, founding artistic director of White Snake Projects

Rath: It's brilliant. And tell us, because — there's a sense of activism to do this, which I don't know if people maybe associate opera as an art with with activism. Tell us a bit about the Whitesnake Projects and how this reflects the ethos of what you're trying to do.

Lim Jacobs: White Snake Projects came about because opera is factually speaking white and Eurocentric — that is its roots. And it has remained true today. And my mission through White Snake Projects is to make new American opera, not European opera in America, but truly American opera with roots in our culture. And that's why I formed White Snake Projects, to give a platform to American artists of different ethnicities, religious affiliations, races, etc., who would otherwise not have a voice in this very Eurocentric, traditional art form.

We want to open up the door for the creation of new art, which reflects who we are as Americans. We do operas on immigration stories — not didactic, mind you, but we explore these topics of colonization, economic insecurity, IPV, intimate partner violence. And we do that by commissioning composers and writers to tell stories in their own words and make new music and bring new sounds to the audience.

"Let’s Celebrate: Living Holiday Traditions in America" is on Saturday, Dec. 10 at GBH.