This Week's Day-by-Day Picks

 Thursday, December 23

Whether you're feeling insecure about that ditty you wrote your girlfriend for Christmas or you just have a few loose tunes you'd like to try out on an audience, Swallow Hill Cafe's monthly Songwriters Open Stage is the perfect proving ground. Held at 7 p.m. on the fourth Thursday of every month and presented open-stage style, the low-key event offers a chance to sing without the sting for a sympathetic (and, hopefully, gently critical) crowd that's kept in line by host Ed McIlvain. Bring two or three of your best songs, and sign up at 6:30 p.m. for stage time. The cafe is downstairs at Swallow Hill Music Hall, 71 East Yale Avenue. Call 303-777-1003 or go to www.swallowhill.com.

Friday, December 24

Ta-ta, tutus: This year's performances of The 
Nutcracker by the Colorado Ballet end 
Wednesday at the  Paramount Theatre.
Ta-ta, tutus: This year's performances of The Nutcracker by the Colorado Ballet end Wednesday at the Paramount Theatre.

Tardy Christmas Eve shoppers can take a load off and snag the kids one last chance to sit with Santa today from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Skyline Park, 16th and Arapahoe streets. The big guy will patiently mug for parental cameras, and there'll be continuous (or is that endless?) Christmas music, courtesy of the Jingle Singers; at 4, St. Nicholas will punch the clock and head out to do his real job. For information, call 303-571-8200 or visit www.downtowndenver.com. But don't pack away your cameras and just go home: Why not dine downtown and then swing by the Denver City and County Building Christmas lights display, 1437 Bannock Street? In addition to being one of the most popular viewing nights, it's Photo Night, so be prepared for heavy traffic all evening, from 6 p.m. to midnight. And if you can't stand the thought of bumping into one more human today, the garish lights will still twinkle nightly through New Year's Day, and again from January 7 through 21 for tourist types in town for the Stock Show. For details, log on to www.denvergov.org/Public_Buildings/ template24373.asp.

Saturday, December 25

Gathering 'round the tree is all well and good on Christmas morn. But what do you do after the last shred of wrapping paper lands in a trash bag, the feast is demolished and you've tired of admiring -- or deploring -- your gifts? Go to the movies! The theaters beckon with fresh and long-awaited Christmas Day releases: This year's crop is crowned by Martin Scorsese's new Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator, with a fedora-topped Leonardo DiCaprio looking every bit the loaded dapper dreamer. Also opening is Spanish director Jaume Balagueró's creepy Darkness, with Anna Paquin and Lena Olin rattling about in a haunted house, and Wes Anderson's offbeat satire The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, starring Bill Murray as the central character. And families can delight in Fat Albert, a live-action incarnation of the beloved Bill Cosby invention given substance by director Joel Zwick (My Big Fat Greek Wedding). Riches untold. Sit back and smell the popcorn. For showtimes and theaters, check the movie listings at www.westword.com.

Sunday, December 26

The observance of Kwanzaa, a family-oriented celebration of African social principles, gets off to an early start this morning with the Kwanzaa 5K Run/Walk, hosted by Potts Trotters to benefit the Martin Luther King Scholarship Program. The holiday dash starts at 10 a.m. at the Aurora Municipal Court, 15001 East Alameda Drive; fees range from $15 to $25. Call 303-363-0055, ext. 1, or visit www.active.com to register in advance. Later this evening, more Kwanzaa events will focus on the first principle, Umoja (or Unity), by bringing people together. Denver's longest annual festivity, dubbed "Come Alive in 2005," gets under way at 6 p.m. with a Grand Kinara Lighting, featuring the giant traditional seven-armed candelabra at 26th and Welton streets. Afterward, folks can march and drum their way over to Kimball Hall, 700 East 24th Avenue and Washington Street, for an opening ceremony from 7 to 9. Additional activities continue throughout Kwanzaa until January 1; call 303-297-0823 or go to www.brotherjeff.com. Another Kwanzaa Celebration, this one under the twinkling canopy of the Denver Zoo's Wildlights, 2300 Steele Street, includes a family-friendly night of African music and dance, in addition to the regular attractions. Celebrate from 5:30 to 9 p.m. in the glow of millions of lights; events are free with regular Wildlights admission of $2 to $7. Call 303-376-4800 or log on to www.denverzoo.org.

Monday, December 27

Many families stymied by the pressures of over-long school vacations rightly choose to skip town the week after Christmas. Some might head for sunnier climes, but in Colorado, they mob the slopes in a recreational acme of winter powder play. Headed for Steamboat? Kids ages six through fifteen will have the time of their lives during Desperado Ski and Snowboard Week, replete with week-long, all-day group instruction, daily lunches, a treasure hunt, a barbecue and a culminating race. The fee for this week to remember is $475; for information, call 1-800-299-5017 or visit www.steamboat.com.

Tuesday, December 28

This holiday season brings glorious news for Harry Potter fans: Author J.K. Rowling has just finished the sixth book in her outrageously popular series, titled Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. And according to Scholastic Books, release is scheduled for July 16, 2005. That's great, but seven months is a long time. What about those who need a Harry fix right now? Well, they can just fire up their brooms and fly over to the Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Extravaganza, which has become something of an annual happening at the Boulder Public Library, 1000 Canyon Boulevard in Boulder. Festivities will turn the place into Hogwarts for a day, with free film screenings, games, tournaments and more. The bewitching business will take place non-stop from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and tomorrow; call 303-441-3099 or go to www.boulderlib.co.us/youth.

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