Bank United Thanksgiving Day Parade All the energy and effervescence of youth will march downtown today, dressed in shiny sateen pants and spangly boots -- batons flying high and cymbals crashing loud; hips wagging and legs kicking to a tuba beat. High above your head, a gargantuan, helium-filled balloon of Dennis the Menace will float by, those peculiar boy-balloon eyes staring down in perpetual, stupefied wonder at the floats of cottony, colored-paper worlds filled with waving princesses and yawning boys. Marilyn Monroe's head all done up in larger-than-life papier-mache will roll by, and the Universal Cheerleading Association will make you want to shout -- with them, at them, it doesn't matter. Everyone loves a parade. 9 a.m. Parade begins at Smith and Walker and ends at Louisiana and Walker; and if you don't want to see it live, watch it on KHOU-TV, Channel 11. Free, except for $18 bleacher seats in the "TV zone" on Smith between Texas and Capitol. Tickets available at Bank United locations. For information, call 468-6824, access code BANK.
The Nutcracker The story's been so loved on, it's dog-eared at the edges. But in case you've been under some rock all your life, here's the summary: A little girl named Clara receives a magic nutcracker for Christmas and makes a wondrous journey to the Land of Snow and the Kingdom of Sweets, where she meets the Snow Queen and the beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy. The whole thing is set to Tchaikovsky's beautiful score, dozens of children populate the stage and the costumes and dancing are candy-sweet. If you're not been-there-done-that jaded about the whole holiday thing, if you have small children or if you really are just coming up from underground, you might want to snare a seat at the opening, tonight at 7:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Dance for other dates and times.) Wortham Theater Center, Brown Theater, 500 Texas, 227-ARTS. $10-$60.
U2 Take a looming golden arch, a stratospheric olive-on-a-stick and a video screen the size of a barn and stuff them under the Dome, and you've got either the most useless rummage sale in the universe or the greatest show on earth. Never mind the gaudy costumes, the silly grins and the gigantic disco-ball lemon (on wheels, even), this is rock and roll. And never mind that the band's latest album, Pop, tanked. U2 is still the band that brought meaning to the '80s by singing about war-stricken Ireland ("Sunday Bloody Sunday"), then widened its scope to America, did it with B.B. King in the movies, and then kicked us all in the collective head again (Achtung Baby) and again (Zooropa). Smashmouth opens. 8 p.m. at the Astrodome, 8400 Kirby, 629-3700. $37.50-$52.50.
Museum of Fine Arts Holiday Happenings It's Friday. The big hoo-ha is over. The dishes are washed, the kids are whining, and you, being part of one of the last sane families in America, have decided not to go shopping today. What is there to do besides watching TV and twiddling your thumbs? Explore Art (that's with a capital "A"). Today and Saturday, the Museum of Fine Arts offers more than pictures on a wall. Find lots to busy those young brains, including artist-led workshops and musicians in the galleries. Today, the Texas Mime Theater performs Carnival of the Animals, in which a lion king (of course) runs away to join the circus. How can you lose? The kids will stop thinking the museum is some enormous tomb on Montrose, and you can do something that doesn't involve a fistful of quarters, Coke in a paper cup or waving at your child as she makes her way through a plastic maze of colored tubes. 14 p.m., today and tomorrow, 2:30 p.m., performances. Museum of Fine Arts, 1001 Bissonnet, 639-7300. $3; $1.50, seniors and students; free, children under 5.
A Fertle Holiday After 13 seasons, you'd think folks would get sick of the redneck Fertle Family (get it? the Fertles, as in, there's lots of 'em?). But not only do folks keep coming back for new installments (nine so far) of the cartoony comedy sketches, this first Fertle story returns every year, as predictable as the Rudolph special on TV. The show's corny as Kansas, but audiences seem to love it, and you can bring the whole kit-and-caboodle family, because there's nothing here that would shock children or Baptists. 8:30 p.m. (See Thrills, Theater for other dates and times.) Radio Music Theatre, 2623 Colquitt, 522-7722. $14.