Of all the light shows in all of the metro area, you just have to walk into this one. Garish though the display may be, when the Denver City and County Building switches on the holiday wattage, it marks the return of a tradition as integral to this city's character as the National Western Stock Show, Cinco de Mayo and rabid Broncomania. Be the first on your block to view this year's spectacle: Tonight's Denver City and County Building Lighting Ceremony begins at 6 p.m. in the Denver Civic Center, 1437 Bannock Street, with live music, free hot chocolate and Hizzoner Hickenlooper at the controls. If you can't make it tonight, the lights will be on view nightly through New Year's Eve, and again from January 10 through January 19, while the Stock Show is in town. Let there be light, yadda, yadda, yadda. For the complete rundown, log on to www.9news.com/bridge/hsg/ltl.asp.
Friday, December 5
Whether you're weary of the season's endless Nutcracker renditions or just in search of lighter holiday entertainment for your family, the return of Ratcracker is reason for celebration. The Frequent Flyers Productions performance pokes fun at its classical source of inspiration while evoking oohs and aahs for dancers who fly through the air on trapezes and bungees and even an airborne bed. The rats win (although with a peaceful twist) in this show, which is choreographed to music by Duke Ellington and others; new this year are fabulous costumes designed by Paula Hutman of Denver's Studio PaNdau. Showtimes are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, today through December 14 at the Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder. For tickets, $13 to $26, call 303-245-8272 or log on to www.frequentflyers.org.
Galleries and artisans all over town are joining in the holiday spirit by offering shows that feature miniatures and other affordable artworks this month (see the Night and Day Gallery listings at www.westword.com for the lowdown). Still, you won't find a cooler seasonal display than the one taking place this weekend at Andenken Gallery, 2110 Market Street. Andenken's Perfect Gift Festival, 3 to 10 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. tomorrow, promises to be a gift-giving hipster's shopping paradise, with everything from gallery partner Hyland Mather's tiny, cartoonish, $20 post-South Park works to a mélange of artist-designed handbags and jewelry. The two-day celebration will also include live music by local bands (the Maybellines play tonight, and a jazzy offshoot of the Czars performs tomorrow), as well as a hot-drink bar with steaming beverages of every strength (or lack thereof). Call 303-332-5582 or log onto www.andenken.com for details.
Saturday, December 6
Bless their little hearts: There you are running around -- decorating and frantically shopping, tearing your hair out, screaming at bad drivers while driving badly yourself and trying like the dickens to seem stress-free through December -- while the kids just wanna have fun. But they could be on to something, and that's why today's School Days Off Fun Day, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the University of Denver's Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness, 2201 East Asbury Avenue, is for the whole family. Join your children for free rock climbing, swimming, ice skating, gymnastics and more. For information, call 303-871-3190.
Sale-ing, sale-ing: If you're looking for out-of-the-ordinary shopping experiences, this weekend is gift-sale central, the big blowout of the season. So you'd better make a list, starting with this: The Denver Potters Association Holiday Show and Sale, one of the finest metro-area pottery shows you'll come across all year. It started Thursday and continues today from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and tomorrow from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Sixth Avenue United Church, 3250 East Sixth Avenue. For information, call 303-377-5535 or log on to www.denverpotters.com. You'll find a million and one gift items (or at least it'll seem that way) at the annual Junior League of Denver Holiday Mart, a magnificent collection of beautiful and unusual clothing, jewelry, toys, edibles and more from over 200 retailers. Go peruse the goods from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at the Wings Over the Rockies Museum, Hangar #1, 7711 East Academy Parkway in the former Lowry Air Force Base. Admission is $7 to $9 (children ages six and under are admitted free); call 303-692-0270, ext. 267, or log on to www.jld.org. Special craft activities will keep the kids busy while you shop at the Lookout Mountain Nature Center's Nature's Gifts Festival, which, as you can easily guess, features nature-oriented items to please everyone. Browse and buy from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today at the center, 910 Colorow Road, Golden; call 303-526-0594. Finally, less than an hour from downtown Denver, you'll find the Historic Georgetown Christmas Market, an annual tradition in the rustic mountain town, which features such old-fashioned pleasantries as hot roasted chestnuts, a Santa Lucia parade, carriage rides and a totally Victorian St. Nicholas, along with historic home tours and a snow-frosted arts-and-crafts sale. Events continue until dusk on Saturday and Sunday, this week and next. Browsing is free, but there's a fee of $5 to $12 for the house tours; for information or tour reservations, call 303-569-2840 or log on to www.historicgeorgetown.org. (For other suggestions, see our online Community Events and Outdoor Markets listings at www. westword.com.)
Sunday, December 7
No Christmas would be complete without the appearance of "Santa Cody" on horseback, with all of his little cowboy elves and gifts for the kids. The Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum, 987 1/2 Lookout Mountain Road in Golden, promises a passel of fun at A Cowboy Christmas With Cody, a free family day featuring live music by Southwind, ornament- and card-making crafts for youngsters, and the museum's well-worn cowboy-boot exhibition. The fest runs from noon to 3 p.m.; call 303-526-0744 or log on to www.buffalobill.org.
Monday, December 8
Folks at the Boulder County AIDS Project say this year's BCAP Holiday Cabaret and Silent Auction will be their last -- all the more reason to go. (As if contributing to a worthy cause -- services for people with HIV and AIDS -- weren't reason enough.) The bidding begins at 6 p.m. tonight; local entertainers and community groups start performing at 7:30. It all takes place at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street; admission is $18 to $22, and donations of canned food or personal items will also be accepted. For tickets, call 303-789-7030 or 303-444-6121; for information, log on to www.bcap.org.
Tuesday, December 9
Clarence Fountain and his Blind Boys of Alabama will help everyone get in the proper spirit when they bring in their old-time, gospel-flavored Go Tell It on the Mountain Tour. The program features music from a new holiday CD of the same name that includes a guest roster nearly as long as Santa's gift list: Solomon Burke, George Clinton, Michael Franti, Chrissie Hynde, Shelby Lynne, Les McCann, Me'Shell NdegéOcello, Aaron Neville, Mavis Staples and Tom Waits. Tonight's show starts at 8 p.m. at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street; R&B and gospel great Staples and keyboardist/ bandleader John Medeski will join the boys live on stage. For tickets, $26.50 to $34, call 303-786-7030 or log on to www. bouldertheater.com.
Wednesday, December 10
Talk about your outreach programs! If you haven't snagged tickets for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra's annual Christmas concert, here's a chance to sneak a peek in the privacy of your own home. A Colorado Christmas, complete with over 300 performers interpreting a slew of sing-along favorites, not to mention an appearance by Santa himself, will be aired live from Boettcher Concert Hall tonight on KCNC-TV/Channel 4. Order a pizza and tune in from 6 to 8 p.m.; for more information, log on to www.news4colorado.com.