This Week's Day-By-Day Picks 

"You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have - all these kids?" The heartwarming It's a Wonderful - Life shows on Christmas Day.
  • "You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?" The heartwarming It's a Wonderful Life shows on Christmas Day.
Thursday, December 23

Although Lake Metroparks' Woodland Halle Days is open till January 9, it's really meant to be seen before Christmas. After all, the exhibit, now in its 10th year, features a recreation of the Winter Wonderland display from the old Halle's department store -- a local holiday tradition! For a sense of its olden-day splendor, watch A Christmas Story (TBS is probably showing it another three dozen times this week). This faithful restoration -- adorned with hundreds of lights, decorations, and Frosty's Winter Wonderland -- does Jean Shepherd's memories proud. It's on view from noon to 5 p.m. daily at the Penitentiary Glen Nature Center (8668 Kirtland-Chardon Road in Kirtland) through January 9. Admission is free. For more information, call 440-256-1404.

Friday, December 24

Westfield Shoppingtown Great Northern claims to have the real Santa at its mall, but we're not sure how that's possible, seeing that he's gonna be there till about 9 tonight, fielding requests from procrastinating tots. That really doesn't leave him much time to get his chubby butt back to the North Pole, load up all those presents, and still haul that reindeer-powered sled all over the world by the time we wake up tomorrow morning (and trust us, it's gonna be mighty early). Yet we've sat on the lap of Great Northern's Santa (and tugged on his beard), and we gotta admit: If he ain't the real thing, he's the most convincing Claus we've ever demanded gifts from. He's at the Great Northern mall (on Great Northern Boulevard in North Olmsted) from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (with an hour break, starting at 3 p.m.). Admission is free. For more info, visit www.westfield.com/greatnorthern.

Need a last-minute gift? Or just in the market for some inexpensive original artwork on Christmas Eve? Buzz Gallery's Low Dough Holiday Show has got you covered. With paintings, drawings, and ceramics by more than a dozen local artists (including Bridget Ginley, Scott Radke, and Tracy Weinhold) and nothing priced higher than $100, it's the perfect opportunity to look like a thoughtful big-spender. The Low Dough Holiday Show is at Buzz Gallery (1836 West 25th Street, Suite 1B) through January 1. It's open from noon till 4 p.m. today, Monday, and Wednesday. Admission is free; call 216-522-1836.

Saturday, December 25

We love It's a Wonderful Life so much, we've seen it more than 25 times. We've even watched it in July. But it's never more cozy and life-affirming than it is on Christmas Day, when its themes of despair and redemption ring most true. It's also the holiday's darkest classic (sorry, Dickens). Alcohol abuse, fisticuffs, a brutal ear-boxing, and a suicide attempt all figure into Frank Capra's 1946 fantasy, in which circumstances beyond his control strand everyman James Stewart in his dreary hometown till . . . ah, you know the story. NBC now owns the broadcast rights to the once-ubiquitous flick, so unless you caught it in late November, this is your only chance to see it on television this season. It starts at 8 p.m. on WKYC-TV Channel 3.

Sunday, December 26

Appropriately, the art museum's annual Holiday Film Festival returns today with The Return, last year's gripping tale of a man who comes home after 12 years to take his two young sons on a fishing trip. The tense, tragic movie from Russia is one of five foreign flicks being shown this week for free. Also included are China's Blind Shaft (on Tuesday) and Springtime in a Small Town (Wednesday), Britain's In This World (Thursday, December 30), and France's To Be and to Have (Friday, December 31). Show times are 1:30 p.m. at the Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard; call 216-421-7340.

Monday, December 27

What is it with trains and Christmas? From Lionels under the tree to The Polar Express (the awesome book, not the awful movie), choo-choos are as much a part of the holidays as pine needles and fruitcake. The Crawford Auto-Aviation Museum's A Circus of Trains exhibit makes this abundantly clear with its toy locomotives and teeny winter scenes (be sure to check out the 1930 Terminal Tower model, an impressive mix of wood, ingenuity, and patience). The display is more child-friendly this year (it's laid out better for little eyes, a push of a button gets the trains a-rollin'), and since the kids are gonna need something to do this long vacation week . . . It runs through January 17 at the Crawford Museum (10825 East Boulevard), which is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $7.50, $5.50 for kids; call 216-721-5722.

Tuesday, December 28

Why are there no Kwanzaa offerings like A Charlie Brown Kwanzaa or Kwanzaa With the Kranks? Even the anything-to-make-a-buck music biz is slow to cash in on everybody's favorite neglected holiday. Surely there's room for a "White Kwanzaa" or "I'll Be Home for Kwanzaa." It might be a question to pose at today's Kwanzaa program at the Warrensville library, which will fill you in on everything you need to know about the African American cultural celebration. There'll be plenty of food and stories there, too, as well as some music. But we doubt there'll be anything like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Kwanzaa." It happens from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Warrensville branch of the Cuyahoga County Library, 22035 Clarkwood Parkway in Warrensville Heights. Admission is free; call 216-464-5280.

Wednesday, December 29

There are a few days left to see the Botanical Garden's WinterShow, one of the area's finest displays of massive trees, tiny trains, and non-edible gingerbread projects. And this year's star-studded theme has blanketed the venue in star ornaments, star decorations, and star lights. Bright stuff. They're at the Cleveland Botanical Garden (11030 East Boulevard) from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through January 2. Admission is $7, $3 for kids; call 216-721-1600.

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