Conductor Emil de Cou isn’t quite sure what to do with the box of red sponge noses he recently ordered from Amazon, but there’s a chance he’ll tote it to town when he leads the annual holiday revue Merry Merry Chicago! at Symphony Center.

 This is de Cou’s third stint on the CSO’s yuletide podium, where he’ll be Dec. 14-23, and with the exception of some beloved standards — Joy to the World, Angels We Have Heard on High — the program he’ll lead is largely new.

Carefully crafted over the summer with artistic administration director Randy Elliott, the holiday revue features members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Chorus, the hall’s 3,400-pipe concert organ and a repertoire that contains something for everyone: from Weber’s Overture to Abu Hassan and Pärt’s Vater Unser to rousing sing-alongs of White Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, de Cou’s personal holiday favorite. Santa will pop in, too.

The final piece, A Christmas Garland, is a lush and literal show-stopper that combines the orchestra, chorus and organ. Arranged by “Star Trek” theme composer Alexander Courage, the medley of upbeat holiday classics — Ding, Dong Merrily on High, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, We Wish You a Merry Christmas — caps the evening in grand style.

“This program is definitely geared toward families and kids, so you want to make it fast-paced,” de Cou says. “We picked pieces that aren’t too slow or quiet. There are some prayerful ones, like Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, but around them are lively, fun, colorful pieces. I think that’s important. And the CSO is one of the world’s great orchestras, so you want to utilize them to the max.”

Besides being a beloved annual tradition for people in Chicago and beyond, the Merry, Merry concerts attract a good number of first-timers to Orchestra Hall — those who wouldn’t otherwise listen to live classical music and have never stepped foot in the storied venue. And de Cou knows how important first impressions are.

“With all the difficulties of life and things that people go through, this is one time people can come together as a group or as a family,” he says. “You never know what [seed] you’re planting with a young person or an older person. It could be one piece in this program, or it could be the whole effect of it. Or it could be hearing this great orchestra for the first time and what that might grow into many years later.”

From light entertainment to life-changing and everything in-between, its impact runs the gamut. And the emotional effect isn’t lost on de Cou. Gazing out at the all-ages audience during the White Christmas sing-along, he says, “just fills your heart.”

 This year, some of the singers might even sport spongy red noses. Watch out, Rudolph.

Mike Thomas, a Chicago-based writer, is the author of the books You Might Remember Me: The Life and Times of Phil Hartman and Second City Unscripted: Revolution and Revelation at the World-Famous Comedy Theater.

TOP: Emil de Cou adjusts his tie as he prepares to take the stage ahead of Merry, Merry Chicago! | ©Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017