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The Holiday Guide to get you through the season 

The Holiday A&E Top 10

As our cover for this year's Holiday Guide suggests, we're searching for some sweet relief from the stress and strain of the holiday season. It just may be the best and most challenging time of the year. How to get through it? This year's package of ideas offers readers more than fun options; it offers a shot at surviving.

Consider this your moral, and very fun, compass for the next month.

1) THE NUTCRACKER, THE ATLANTA BALLET
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's classic ballet The Nutcracker sort of anticipated "The Transformers," as it depicts a nut-cracking Christmas toy that changes into a rat-stabbing action hero. Too bad he doesn't have a snappy catch phrase like, "Time to crack some nuts!" Part of The Atlanta Ballet's Family Fairytale series, The Nutcracker, a perennial holiday favorite, promises to feature the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and more than 200 of the city's young dancers in the luxurious surroundings of the Fox Theatre. $15-$80 adults, $11-$60 students. Sat., Dec. 2, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Sun., Dec. 3, 2 p.m., through Dec. 30 (includes Fri. performances beginning Dec. 8). Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St., 404-817-8700. www.ticketmaster.com.

2) HOLIDAY-SEASON MOVIES
This season the local cineplex features several holiday-themed movies, most conspicuously The Nativity Story (featuring Keisha Castle Hughes, pictured), but also The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause and Deck the Halls. The most promising-looking piece of family fare, however, may be Charlotte's Web, the first live-action adaptation of E.B. White's classic children's book. Atlanta is well represented: Dakota Fanning stars alongside a cast of talking animals, featuring the voices of Julia Roberts as Charlotte the spider, Steve Buscemi as Templeton the rat and Andre "3000" Benjamin as Elwyn the crow. Expect the talking animals and meat-is-murder motif to remind you of Babe. Charlotte's Web opens Dec. 20. (For more, see the Film feature.) At area theaters. For showtime information, check out the Movie Times.

3) 99X MISTLE TOE JAM
This year's 99X Mistle Toe Jam is the who's who of who's hot on the radio right now. Newly hirsute but always cocky, the Killers are enjoying the success of critically acclaimed CD Sam's Town, which combines bits of Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie and Queen. Eyeliner-loving AFI continues on its path of gloomy, glammy rock that the kids love; its most recent release, Decemberunderground, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard. Rounding out the bill are Aussie garage rockers Jet, best known for the single/iPod commercial for "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?," and Chicago power-pop quartet OK Go, best known for its treadmill choreography, which is a very strange thing for a band to be known for. $27-$65. 5:30 p.m. Wed., Dec. 6. Philips Arena, 1 Philips Drive. 404-878-3000. www.99x.com.

4) A VERY MERRY UNAUTHORIZED CHILDREN'S SCIENTOLOGY PAGEANT
As most theaters and performing-arts venues schedule cash cows such as A Christmas Carol, Dad's Garage Theatre provides some appealing-sounding counter-programming with the off-Broadway hit, A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant. The Inman Park playhouse gives its usual holiday hosts, Chick Starley and Boozy the Imp, a vacation this year and instead presents Les Freres Corbusier's straight-faced script about L. Ron Hubbard's spiritual teachings in the form of a grade-school, nativity-style musical, directed by Mary Claire Dunn and cast entirely with children aged 8-12. $9-$24. Fri.-Sat., Dec. 1-2, through Dec. 23. Dad's Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com.

5) CIARA
Ciara, Atlanta's reigning urban pop diva (sorry Monica), hasn't reached Usher-like ubiquity among American teenagers yet. But she's getting there, with a hit album, 2004's Goodies (featuring "1, 2 Step," "Goodies," "Oh," etc.) already on her résumé. The 21-year-old singer currently is on tour in support of her follow-up, Ciara: The Evolution. The show lands at Center Stage Atlanta, just in time for the new album's Dec. 5 release. As for the opening act, remember Big Gipp? The onetime Goodie Mob vocalist formed a new duo with Ali from St. Lunatics, and the duo will perform tracks from their upcoming album tonight. $26-$28. 7 p.m. Thurs., Dec. 7. Center Stage Atlanta, 1374 W. Peachtree St. 404-885-1365. www.centerstage-atlanta.com.

6) INDIE CRAFT EXPERIENCE HOLIDAY SHOPPING SPECTACULAR
The brainchild of highly prolific, busy-bee Atlanta indie crafters Shannon Mulkey, Christie Peterson and Susan Voelker, this year's Indie Craft Experience Holiday Shopping Spectacular at the West End's B-Complex is not only a great opportunity to stock up on the kind of handmade gifts that will pass muster with even your most discriminating alt-friends. The I.C.E. shopping event is also an opportunity to eyeball one of the era's most important social movements and art enterprises: the busting-out-all-over indie-craft movement. A portion of the door fee goes to women and children's shelter Hagar House. $5. Dec. 9, 12 p.m.-8 p.m. The B-Complex, 1272 Murphy Ave., www.thebcomplex.com.

7) THE MAGIC DREIDELS
At Jewish Theatre of the South, Jenna Zark's The Magic Dreidels (based on Eric Kimmel's book) flashes back to the first night of Chanukah in a 19th century Russian shtetl, where a goblin gives a young boy dreidels that spin out potato latkes and gelt. But will a busybody neighbor steal the magic tops? Barbara Cole-Uterhardt directs this remount of JTS' family-oriented show that features Larry Dean Davis, Craig Waldrip, Megan Hayes and Gil Eplan-Frankel. $12 adults, $10 kids 12-under. Dec. 13-24. Zaban Park, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody. 770-395-2654. www.atlantajcc.org.

8) JASON FULFORD
If you saw Scranton, Pa.-based photographer Jason Fulford's arresting, off-kilter and melancholy images loaded with oodles of wit and astounding powers of observation in the 2004 Atlanta exhibition This Is the Future at Saltworks Gallery, you remembered them. His images of a winding highway, street signs or a stairway to nowhere look like the kind of haunted, discarded, inexplicable photos you might come across at a flea market and puzzle over for the rest of your life. With his uncanny take on life and terse visual jokes, Fulford marries the quirky sensibility of a Wes Anderson with the color photography drama of a William Eggleston. Dec. 14-Jan. 27. Marcia Wood Gallery, 263 Walker St. Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6 p.m. 404-827-0030. www.marciawoodgallery.com.

9) DAN ZANES
Back in the 1980s, Dan Zanes was the singer/guitarist for garage-rock band the Del Fuegos. These days, he's still a hard-partying musician, and his groupies are underage. So underage, in fact, they don't know what they're underage for. And the aforementioned parties happen before naptime. Now, Zanes fronts a motley crew of colorfully clad musicians who perform a brand of family-friendly folk-rock originals and traditional children's songs. At shows, a largely pre-K audience gets crazy on a dance floor and parents are encouraged to sing along. Rock on, family man. $12-$18. Sat., Dec. 9, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Ferst Center for the Performing Arts, 349 Ferst Drive. 404-894-9600. www.ferstcenter.gatech.edu.

10 VOLUNTEERING
We can all agree that volunteering and being selfless should be a year-round event, and that sometimes there's a disproportionate desire to help during the holidays and not the rest of the year. Regardless, people are in need, and there are myriad opportunities, with clearinghouse-type organizations such as the United Way (unitedwayatlanta.org), the Atlanta Humane Society (www.atlantahumane .org) and the Atlanta Community Food Bank (www.acfb.org) who can point you in the right direction. The most timely option is Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's Festival of Trees (The Georgia World Congress Center, Exhibit Hall A-1), which needs help for its event that runs from Dec. 2-10 (visit www.choa.org). For more options, visit atlanta.creativeloafing.com, click on See & Do and then Happenings for the volunteers link.

Contributors: Felicia Feaster, Curt Holman, Heather Kuldell, Mosi Reeves, David Lee Simmons


Survival of the Hippest

CL's Holiday Guide 2006


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