Press Picks

Lights in the Heights Unlike that humongous, commerce-driven lighting ceremony over by the Galleria, Lights in the Heights is a sweet little neighborhood thing. No stores, no mobs, no champagne-serving bars and restaurants offering a great plate-glass view. The Heights homes have been done up fancy for the holidays, and the folks who've worked so hard stringing lights and decorating their abodes want to show off their handiwork. As the Christmas lights start twinkling in the dusk, neighbors will tote out the clarinets and violins they don't have much time for during the year and play their own homely versions of "Jingle Bells" and "Silent Night." On the Norhill Esplanade, find local groups of dancers and cloggers and choirs. And at 7 p.m., Santa arrives. Eat cookies and drink wassail, and feel that small-town Christmas cheer right here in the big old fourth-largest city in the nation. 6-9 p.m., on Bayland and Omar streets between Norhill and Beauchamp, 683-5188. $5, for picture taken with Santa; seeing the lights and strolling the streets is absolutely free.

december 14
1997 Enron Jingle Bell Run Runners, walkers, skaters and even those who like to stand around and point and giggle are all welcome to this sporting event that benefits the Downtown YMCA community service programs. There is, of course, the run/walk event, but as soon as the first participants cross the finish line, the real fun starts. There will be games and music, and Santa will even be on hand. Get there early and procure a set of those must-have foam antlers. And if you're really cheerful and energetic, enter the best-holiday-costume contest: You could score a pair of round-trip tickets from Continental Airlines. 2 p.m., 1-mile kids' run; 2:25 p.m., 5-mile wheelchair and 3.2-mile in-line skate event; 2:30 p.m., 5-mile adult run and 3.2-mile family walk. Downtown YMCA, 1600 Louisiana. Call 758-9297 for information, or steer your browser to $20; $10, kids 13 and under.

Julie Garwood and Toys for Tots Julie Garwood, best-selling author of the Clayborne Brides series, has been at it again -- for better or worse. "Sweet" and "feel-good" and "laugh out loud" are the kind of kudos her romance novels garner. If that sounds promising to you, you can have her sign your copy of her latest effort, Come the Spring. She asks her fans to act in the feel-good spirit of her prose by donating a new toy to the Marines' Toys for Tots program. 1-2 p.m., Katy Budget Books, 2347 Fry Road, (281) 578-7770. Admission: a new, unwrapped toy or book for a child.

december 15
The Drawing Speaks: Theophile Bra, Works 18261855 In 19th-century France, Theophile Bra was known as a sculptor of civic and religious monuments. But in 1826, Bra suffered the deaths of two wives in rapid succession, and underwent repeated struggles with mental illness. The tragedies in his life coincided with a less-known turn in his art. Come see these previously unexhibited drawings -- visionary pieces that explored his dreams and mystical feelings, much as the Surrealists and Abstract Expressionists did nearly a century later. Through March 29, 50 of the works are exhibited for the first time. The Menil Collection, 1515 Sul Ross, 525-9400. The museum is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m., seven days a week. Free.

december 16
A Tuna Christmas Since we've had a gajillion people calling up and wondering when Tuna Christmas is coming back to Houston, we're happy to announce: Here it is. Starring Tony Award-nominated Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, this very funny, very irreverent play takes you to Tuna, Texas, a town rooted in conservatism. Here, the Lions Club is considered too liberal; it's a place where every pickup boasts a gun rack and big hair reigns. Besides the wildly wacky original characters (including Bertha Bumiller and cat-eyed Vera Carp), you'll meet new inhabitants of Tuna: two Tasty Kreme waitresses who shoot from the lip and dress to kill; a hypoglycemic theater director whose past triumphs include an all-white Raisin in the Sun; and the iron-haired, penny-pinching city secretary Dixie Deberry. It's satire of the merriest sort. Opens tonight at 8 p.m. (see Thrills for other dates and times). Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas, 629-3700. $25-$35.

december 17
Museum of Printing History What do the Catholic Bible, Santa Claus and Christmas cards have in common? Besides their obvious relationship to Christmas, they're all subjects of new exhibits at the Museum of Printing History. The lowdown: (1) Thomas Nast, a 19th-century caricaturist, is known for creating the modern-day Santa Claus. In "The Evolution of Santa Claus," see how the jolly old elf got started and what's happened to him since. (2) "Christmas Cards of Years Past" reveals, among other things, that the first Christmas cards go back to chromolithographer Louis Prang in 1873; by 1881 they were such a hit, he was printing more than five million per year. So now you know who to thank for that achy card-writing hand. (3) And finally, "The Challenge of the Catholic Bible" shows that from the 16th until the early-19th century, Catholics had a hard go of it, what with censorship laws and folks like Calvin trying to tell them how to worship. Those struggles are reflected in the various manifestations of the Catholic Bible, many of which are on display. Think of these shows as a contemplative respite from the maddening mall crowd. The Museum of Printing History, 1324 W. Clay, 522-4652. $2.

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