Whatever Christmas spirit is, it's not something to be found in crowded shopping malls where you're as likely to get an elbow in the gut as a message of good cheer. And it's almost impossible to feel goodwill toward fellow Houstonians when they're cutting you off on the freeways. But sometimes even an off-key stranger can become a brother when you're both singing carols together. So it might do your grinchy soul some good to join Martin Burniston for his ninth annual Christmas Sing-along at the Mucky Duck.

Burniston is a proper Briton, born in Yorkshire, who has made his home in Houston since 1976. A former semiprofessional singer in England, Burniston is a veteran of local community theater and a member of the board of directors for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. Accompanied by pianist Alice Smith, Burniston will lead the audience in a combination of serious caroling and comic spoofs (such as a treatment of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" that promises full-body involvement for all participants). "I'm just the instigator," says Burniston of the songfest, emphasizing that everyone is part of the performance. "It's usually a great fun deal."

This family-oriented event promises more than just the opportunity to wear that red-and-green sweater, exercise your vocal chops and dash down some snow-covered memory lane in search of the ideals of the season. It's also a fund-raiser for the End Hunger Network. All cash collected (minus printing costs for the song sheets) will go directly to the cause, and additional donations of nonperishable food items are welcome.

"It's made for people to enjoy themselves," Burniston says. "But also not to forget about the true meaning of Christmas and how to help the less fortunate."

-- Roger Wood

Martin Burniston's ninth annual Christmas Sing-along takes place Thursday, December 23, at McGonigel's Mucky Duck, 2425 Norfolk, at 8:30 p.m. Admission is $5. A special pre-event three-course meal is available for $25 (which also includes admission, gratuity and tax). For information, call (713)528-5999.

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Roger Wood
Contact: Roger Wood