The first three weeks of December always seem weighted with ways to kick-start the holiday season, with festive parades, "Nutcracker" ballets and even singing Christmas trees crowding the calendar.
The five-day countdown that starts today offers fewer events around town, but that doesn't mean you'll be without options. That's good to remember if you're looking to entertain -- or maybe escape -- a houseful of relatives.
Here are 10 options to make part of your Chattanooga Christmas tradition. Remember these schedules reflect only the days leading up to Christmas. New Year's hours will vary.
Contact staff writer Lisa Denton at email@example.com or 423-757-6281.
CREATIVE DISCOVERY MUSEUM
The current exhibits are "Winter Wonders," which offers cozy ways to enjoy cool temperatures, and "Helping Hands," which teaches the value of giving.
A Holiday Shoppe will be open at 1 p.m. today through Sunday, Dec. 20-23, to help little ones choose gifts for family members. The final Gingerbread Workshops are scheduled at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23.
The museum will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Admission is $11.95 for ages 2 and up. And you can visit today or Friday, Dec. 20-21, at no charge as part of Community Free Days (see story on Page 11).
Creative Discovery Museum is at 321 Chestnut St. For more information, call 756-2738 or visit www.cdmfun.org.
You may have a hard time deciding what you like best: the feel of the zoo at night during Holiday Lights or the newest residents, two adorable snow leopard cubs. The Holiday Lights visits include games, crafts and pictures with Santa.
The zoo is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (closed Christmas), and Holiday Lights will extend hours from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 21-22. Admission will be free for all children 12 and younger during Holiday Lights, and the zoo will be collecting donations for the Newtown Memorial Fund to assist the grieving families in Connecticut. Adult admission is $8.95 (discounts for seniors).
Chattanooga Zoo is at 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave. For more information, call 697-1319 or visit www.chattzoo.org.
Two downtown businesses have unveiled their annual displays of holiday windows, with animatronic characters busy preparing for the holidays.
At EPB, windows depicting the theme "Gig City Holidays" face Market and Broad streets between M.L. King Boulevard and 10th Street.
At BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, scenes decorate windows wrapping around Seventh, Market and Broad streets.
Both displays will be up through early January.
Organizers of the latest showcase, "A Holiday Glass Celebration," have pulled pieces in red, green and gold from founder Anna Safley Houston's extensive collection to display through Jan. 6.
The museum at 201 High St. is open noon-4 p.m. every Thursday through Sunday (and other times by appointment). Admission is $9 for adults, $3.50 for children under 17. Museum admission is not required for perusing merchandise in the gift shop.
For more information, call 267-7176 or visit www.thehoustonmuseum.org.
One of the finest collections of American art in the Southeast makes the Hunter Museum a destination at any time, but the holiday season adds another reason to visit. For the sixth year, "Holidays at the Hunter" will showcase an amazing array of trees, wreaths and other festooning created by some of the city's top designers and florists.
Admission is $9.95 adults, $4.95 children 3-17.
Regular hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays. The museum will close early (at 3 p.m.) Christmas Eve and will be closed Christmas Day.
For more information, call 267-0968 or visit www.huntermuseum.org.
You have a choice of movies to see on the city's only certified "giant" screen over the next few days -- "Flight of the Butterflies," "To the Arctic" and "The Last Reef" among them. But the Christmas classic is "The Polar Express." Catch this 3-D trip to the North Pole at 5 and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 21-22; 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23; and at noon, 2 and 4 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 24. "The Polar Express" will be the only film shown on Christmas Eve, and the Imax will be closed Christmas Day.
The Imax is at 201 Chestnut St. Tickets are $9.95 adults, $8.50 children 3-12. Find out more at www.tnaqua/imax.
You can visit during the day, but it's the nightly Enchanted Garden of Lights that will hold you spellbound. This illuminated wonderland features thousands of glimmering lights and more than 30 holiday scenes. Santa will be available for photos through Sunday, Dec. 23.
Do the daytime tour 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. year-round (closed Christmas Day) or the Enchanted Garden of Lights 6-9 p.m. through Jan. 5 (closed Christmas Eve).
Tickets are $21.95 adults, $11.95 children 3-12 for Thursday-Saturday visits to the Enchanted Garden of Lights, $18.95 and $10.95 for Enchanted Garden of Lights or daytime tours.
Rock City is at 1400 Patten Road on Lookout Mountain.
For more information, call 706-820-2531 or visit www.seerockcity.com.
The attraction shows off its signature color during Ruby Red Christmas. From 5 to 9 p.m. each Friday and Saturday in December, you'll find storytelling with Mrs. Claus, live music in the Cavern Castle lobby, horse-drawn carriage rides and a guaranteed forecast of snow. On the final weekend, Dec. 28-29, Santa will take a much-needed break, but the elves will still be available to play.
Tickets for Ruby Red Christmas are $17.95 for adults, $15.95 for children 3-12. Children's tickets include a tour, photo with Santa and a choice of craft from the North Pole Workshop.
Carriage rides are available with or without entry into Ruby Falls, priced at a flat rate per carriage of $14.95 with the tour, $19.95 without.
Ruby Falls, 1720 Scenic Highway, is open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (closed Christmas Day). For more information, call 821-2544 or visit www.rubyfalls.com.
Four of the next five cruises offered on the riverboat docked at 201 Riverfront Parkway have holiday themes.
Christmas Carol Dinner Cruises are at 7 p.m. today through Saturday, Dec. 20-22, and there's a 'Tis the Season Lunch Cruise at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Dinner cruises are $36.50 for adults, $19.50 for children 3-12. Tickets for the lunch cruise are $27.50 and $15.50.
Reserve tickets by phone at 800-766-2784 or visit www.ChattanoogaRiverboat.com.
The Tennessee Aquarium, 1 Broad St., is celebrating "Holidays Under the Peaks." Scuba-diving Santas can be spotted in the Nickajack Lake tank at 11 a.m. Saturdays and the "River Giants" exhibit at 2 p.m. Sundays.
Adding to the soundtrack are musicians Matt Downer (noon-2 p.m. today, Dec. 20) and Paul Vogler (11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 22-23).
The Aquarium is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; closed Christmas Day. Special programming is offered between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily in both River Journey and Ocean Journey buildings.
Tickets are $24.95 for adults, $14.95 for children 3-12.
For more information, call 800-262-0695 or visit www.tnaqua.org.