Space Shuttle Crew Briefing Want to know what it's really like up there on the shuttle? Take advantage of a rare NASA event today. After the space shuttle astronauts explain their mission, the press gets a shot at questioning astronauts such as Kevin Kregel and Steve Lindsey; then the public (read: you) will get a chance to ask questions. Find out what space food is like, whether or not they'd do it again and how it felt to sleep in a bed again, after they got home. 10:15-11:15 a.m., Space Center Houston, Mission Status Center, 1601 NASA, (281) 244-2105. $12.95; $8.95, kids four-11.
Tito & Tarantula You might not remember Tito Larriva, but you may well have seen him. Director Robert Rodriguez put the singer/actor in From Dusk Till Dawn, and in Rodriguez's Desperado, Larriva got to kill Quentin Tarantino. Not surprisingly, he and his band think of themselves cinematically, casting themselves as "musicians with a gunslinger mentality: No motion wasted ... and [they] play to kill." Playing in styles ranging from haunting, barrelhouse boogie to revved-up border music, they've come all the way from the madhouse streets of L.A. 9:30 p.m., Velvet Elvis, 3303 Richmond, 520-0434. $8.
Fort Bend Boys Choir Only at Christmas could you get 180 prepubescent boys in suits and ties -- their hair combed straight -- to sing together so sweetly that they seem like angels dispatched from heaven. Tonight, the Fort Bend Boys Choir presents its Christmas musical. Hear both classical and traditional holiday favorites sung in some of the dearest voices you'll ever hear, and see a pack of wiggly little boys behave themselves. 7 p.m., St. Laurence Parish, 3100 Sweetwater Blvd., Sugar Land. For information or advance tickets, call (281) 240-3800. $10; $2.50, kids under 12.
Stuff-a-Bus Food Drive Last year, radio station KRBE collected 7,500 pounds of food for the Houston Food Bank by asking people to stuff a bus with nonperishables. This year, they've added two more buses at two new locations -- making it even easier for you to take a generous moment to hand over a can of carrots, a box of Cheerios or a tin of tuna. 6 a.m.-6 p.m., Randalls, 11041 Westheimer; 2323 Clear Lake City Blvd.; and 5219 West FM 1960. For information, call 266-1000.
Wholistic Health Expo and Psychic Fair You've shopped, you've baked, you've idled in traffic, you've dealt with your broken furnace, you've sat through your niece's Christmas pageant and you've been kind to the mail carrier. Everybody thinks you've got it together as a happening, holiday kind of guy/gal; but inside, deep in the Grinchy bowels of your secretly dark heart, you know you're just one rude comment away from going postal. One day, you keep telling yourself, is all you need. One day to yourself. Well, my holiday-hating friend, today is that day. Go get yourself some acupressure, some reflexology, some aromatherapy; see a chiropractor or a psychic healer. Nibble some herbs. Get a massage. All this and more is waiting to help you get through the horrors of the holidays -- and maybe even get you de-stressed enough to enjoy them. 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m., CenterPoint Project, 7621 Westview, 688-7224. $1 admission; services extra.
Debbie Friedman In her teens, Friedman picked up a guitar at a youth-group retreat and began playing, by ear, folk tunes by the likes of Judy Collins and Peter, Paul and Mary. But after learning Hebrew on a kibbutz in Israel, she began writing music for the words of her favorite Jewish prayers. Since then, she's been compared to Joan Baez. Last year, 2,000 people fought their way through a New York blizzard to see her play her Carnegie Hall debut. Tonight's your chance to see her -- and without the blizzard. 8 p.m., Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Boulevard, 529-5771. $36; $18, kids 18 and under.
The Villains and the Toy Shop Imagine A Christmas Carol and Babes in Toyland and Toy Story all rolled into one, then made hip by a young theater troupe. That's the story of this Christmas tale that comes to us via the Renaissance Performing Arts Center. See the toys come to life and fight the villain Slim Coup de Ville. 3 and 8 p.m. The Renaissance Performing Arts Center, 400 Northline Mall, Suite 308, 695-7469. $10; $7 seniors and students.
"The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain, 11501800" Overwhelmed by Santa, Rudolph and various talking snowmen? Yearning for old-fashioned images of the Christ child? These 75 works -- paintings, sculptures, illuminated manuscripts, prints and even featherwork -- represent scenes from Jesus's life all the way from the Annunciation to the Resurrection. Drawn from seven centuries, the exhibition includes works by some of art history's biggest stars: Giovanni Bellini, Sandro Botticelli, Albrecht DYrer, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and Francisco de Zurbaran. 12:15-6 p.m., The Museum of Fine Arts, 1101 Bissonnet, 639-7300. $3; $1.50, seniors and kids six18.
Recycling That Holiday Tree Bringing the tree home is one of the best parts of Christmas. The whole house fills with the green scent of pine, and the tree looks gorgeous even before all the balls and lights and glittery stuff go on it. But after the whole shebang is over, what can you do with that dried-out, prickly stick, other than toss it rudely to the curb? Leave it to the folks at the Houston Arboretum Nature Center to come up with a class that will give you tons of innovative ideas. This demonstration promises easy, fun-filled ways to recycle your tree -- and help backyard wildlife at the same time. 1-3 p.m., Houston Arboretum Nature Center, 4501 Woodway Drive, 681-8433. Free.
"A Victorian Holiday" at Bayou Bend We owe Christmas, as we know it, to the Victorians. So if you want to know the genesis of all the lights, shopping, baking and exhaustion, bundle up your family and drive to Miss Ima Hogg's house. She's dead now, but her 28-room mansion and its beautiful contents are on display year-round, and right now, it's all done up for the holidays. Today only, strolling carolers and the Scottish Rogues bagpipe band will entertain adult guests while children enjoy games and crafts led by costumed assistants. 1-5 p.m., Bayou Bend, 1 Westcott Street, 639-7750. Free.
Rockets vs. Lakers It's not quite "Showtime" again, but the Lakers, with Shaq, Kobe Bryant and Nick Van Exel, have one of the best records in the NBA. The Rockets, we've noticed, aren't playing too shabbily either -- even without Hakeem. So let's get it on. 7:30 p.m., Compaq Center, 10 Greenway Plaza, 629-3700. $12.50-$475.
Volunteer Income-Tax Assistance You know how confounding those tax forms are. Still, you've got the energy and confidence to toil away till you figure out what number to carry to which line, what gets subtracted from what and who gets added to whom. But what if you didn't speak English, or hadn't been in the States long enough to figure out how the tax codes work? What if you were old and on a fixed income? The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program provides volunteers to help those who need assistance and can't afford it. Maybe this is your chance to learn a lot more about how the tax forms work and to get that warm, fuzzy helpful feeling. Classes start in January, so if numbers and adding and forms excite you at all -- or even if you hate that stuff but want to help folks -- call and find out when and how to sign up. Ask for Harold P. Kron at (281) 721-7070.
Hanukkah Tonight at sundown, Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, begins. Most everyone knows that Hanukkah involves a Menorah and eight candles -- but a lot of folks don't know why. This Jewish holiday commemorates the victory of the Jews over the Hellenist Syrians back in 165 B.C. After their victory, the Maccabees went in to clean and dedicate the Holy Temple in Jerusalem that the Syrians had defiled The Judean heroes could find little undefiled lamp oil (this was ancient times, and a lot of defiling was going on). Miraculously, the tiny amount they did find kept the lamps going eight days, until new oil could be found. Thus, the miracle is celebrated with the lighting of the Hanukkah candles over eight days. Even if you're not Jewish, sit back this evening and give thanks for lights at the darkest part of the year.
19th Annual Christmas Eve Big Feast The City Wide Club fed over 25,000 hungry people last year and expects even more guests this year. But it needs your help. You can sign up to cook, serve or clean up afterward; or you can donate new and unwrapped toys or bring nonperishable food items and clothes. The feast takes place 7 a.m.-3 p.m., George R. Brown Convention Center, 1001 Convention Center Blvd. You can drop off toys at 4715 Caroline or at any local Thrifty Car Rental location. For more information -- or to volunteer -- call 523-1640.