Press Picks

december 22
Historic house museums Some people like to sneak off to the beach during the off-season, even though the weather isn't right for swimming and even fishing is a dicey proposition. Those who crave the scent of sea air and salt marsh, however, go and roam the sea wall and The Strand. For the holidays, there are other scents to enjoy. The insides of several of Galveston's historic homes are decorated with pine, magnolia and evergreen. House fires caused by tree-candles were something of a problem in the 19th century (as were house fires caused by plain old lighting candles, gas lamps and wood stoves), but, all in all, the celebrations were simpler, and thanks to the Galveston Historical Foundation, we moderns can stroll through Christmas past at the 1839 Samuel May Williams Home and the 1859 Ashton Villa. The foundation has taken great care in their decorating and almost all of the handiwork is historically accurate. In fact, there's only one cheat. People, according to house museums director George Deeming, "expect to see a large, elaborate Christmas tree." As a concession to contemporary tastes, a huge tree stands in the parlor of Ashton Villa, although Victorians, who took delight in miniatures, favored tiny, table-top trees. Both houses are open for holidays tours daily (excepting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) through New Year's Eve. Ashton Villa, 2328 Broadway, is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday; Williams Home, 3601 Bernardo de Galvez (Avenue P), is open noon-4 p.m. daily. For details, call (409) 762-3933. Tickets are $4, $3.50 seniors and students, for Ashton Villa; $3 and $2.50 for the Williams Home.

The Santa Conspiracy Move over Oliver Stone, hang yo' heads in shame Erisiums, and Rosicrucians, y'all just rue the day you ever thought you were paranoid: The Santa Conspiracy has come to town. The Santa Conspiracy is Blake Newman's original, "wacky," all-Houston holiday show. What plot is behind Newman's plot? Does it turn out Arlo Guthrie was right: "Santa wears a red suit, he's a communist" and is no doubt bent on polluting our precious bodily fluids? Nope; Newman's show is set in the Galleria, so it's decidedly capitalistic, and ultra-Houston. And, nope, it's not about why Big Bad Bob hired a Chicago pro to play Santa in all our city-sanctioned celebrations. Instead, it's about an even better disaster! This fantasy has desperate holiday shoppers -- who seem to be missing their shoes; even Santa is bootless -- running afoul of the law. Something terribly, terribly odd is afoot. Through December 30. No show Christmas Eve. Special shows Sunday, December 25, at 5 and 8 p.m. Regular shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. Curtains, 3722 Washington Avenue, 862-4548. $10, $8 students.

december 23
The best lights tour ever There are a slew of well-known, widely advertised holiday lighting displays and no one of them is particularly better than the other -- in fact, they all share a packaged sameness. Those who want to see the real deal, who want to get the whole spirit of Christmas thing going, have two choices: the first and most obvious is to simply walk around the block and see the neighbors' lights and decorations. This option, though, isn't always available -- apartment dwellers and people whose neighbors don't bother to decorate, for instance, must travel if they must see Christmas lights -- and that leads to choice number two: drive over to the tiny borough of Idylwood and the surrounding East End area for the bestest light trip around. Here, even the tiniest garage apartments are decked with lights and the Ninja Turtles still reign as proud cutouts waving from well-tended lawns. The lovely street of Fairfield is home to the East End's Tara. The white and columned showplace is tastefully draped with white lights and green boughs and has a homemade diorama on the front lawn. Santa, still in his red suit but sans boots, is stretched out on a chiropractor's table being adjusted. St. Nick and the chiropractor have cheery holiday smiles painted on their bright faces. Those bright faces are in the glow of a powerful floodlight, said fixture also illuminating a plywood copy of the back doctor's card. This is something -- but what? Yet another sign that the holidays are thoroughly corrupt and used to further petty human goals? Or a heartwarming sign that, in our town at least, people can still be proud iconoclasts?

We leave it to you to decide. We however, are completely charmed by the single best Santa's sleigh in Houston. This display, another do-it-yourself life-size cutout, sits before one modest home on a quiet residential street. The Santa is a jolly, cartoonish sort, and his sleigh is generously loaded with carefully painted packages. His reindeer, too, have animated joy on their smiling faces. One reindeer -- not Rudolph -- is the star of this yard and makes the display stand out. The reindeer is depicted as scratching his ear, as deer will, with his hind hoof. Making a cutout of this size, even working with the best Sears skillsaw, is no easy task. The sight of this one, amazingly lifelike reindeer is a tribute to the human spirit and evokes inner-gooey stuff more deftly and less annoyingly than A Christmas on Walton's Mountain. Where is it? Somewhere vaguely east of the blue lights on Dismuke. To view all this, and so much more, take the Gulf Freeway to Wayside, exit, go under the freeway, and then meander. Free.

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