I have to admit it. I love Christmas. I don't mean the day, or even the presents, though those both have their charm. But I love the whole damn holiday season and everything that comes with it. Little white lights wrapped around trees downtown, fake icicles dangling from apartment windows, plastic nativity scenes in storefronts and Muzak versions of "The Little Drummer Boy" playing in elevators. I like spray snow and real snow and cheap batting that's meant to look like snow. Ribbons and dangling ornaments, train sets and Santa scenes, really sappy Christmas movies featuring washed-up TV stars. This time of year, I even like the mall.
I'm not sure who to blame this obsession on: My Jewish dad, who considered Christmas a national holiday and therefore only celebrated the season (not the reason)? My Christian agnostic mom, who could never find the right denomination but always found the best Christmas Eve candlelight service, complete with bell choir and carols? Or perhaps it's something innate in me that made me love the cold weather and warm drinks, the dark nights and bright lights, finding it all comforting and safe and magical. There's certainly an element of fantasy that's consistently charmed me: as a kid, my favorite game of Pretend was called Tinsel Fairies one whose garland outfits and Christmas Tree scenery rendered it purely seasonal. And now, my favorite game of Pretend is called Boyfriend at Christmas a whimsical daydream that involves mistletoe, a fireplace, and that elusive creature: a man who likes this crap as much as I do.
Whatever the reason, while most people are gearing up for their "Christmas decorations in November?!?" complaints, I'm getting out my calendar to schedule two months of awesome. In fact, I attempted to make a spreadsheet of every holiday fair, festival, and destination I wanted to hit this year, but it turns out there are too many to fit into one calendar year. (Seriously, planners, what's up with Dec. 5? Does everything have to happen the first weekend of the month?) Instead, I've compiled a list of those places, shows, and events that I simply cannot miss.
Best known as a drag bar, I've had my eye on this Hayes Valley watering hole for years, thanks to its Christmas tradition of drowning the place in Santa figurines (more than 800 of them) and twinkling lights. Add an enclosed smoking area, pool table, and amazing jukebox and it's the perfect stop for a bit of holiday cheer any day of the week.
488 Hayes, SF. (415) 864-6672, www.marlenasbarsf.com
Union Square Ice Rink
Sure, there's an outdoor ice skating rink at the Embarcadero too, but I prefer this one, situated beneath the giant tree amidst the glittering lights of San Francisco's downtown. Despite the often annoying music, it's one of the most beautiful spots to celebrate the holidays in the city. Now if only my pretend boyfriend would come with me and hold my hand&ldots;
Nov. 11-Jan. 18. Sun.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. $4.50-$9.50 for 90 minute sessions. ($4-$5 for skate rentals.) 555 Pine, SF. (415) 781-2688, www.unionsquareicerink.com
Let it Snow!
As much as I love this season, even I get sick of the predictable storylines of the Christmas Carol/Nutcracker/Miracle on 34th Street trinity (and their endless adaptations). This year, I'm looking forward to watching the Un-Scripted Theater Company weave an entirely unique story, based on audience participation, and present it in spontaneous Broadway song-and-dance fashion.
Nov. 19-Dec. 19, except Nov. 21 and 26. 8 p.m., $8-$20. Thurs.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m. SF Playhouse, Stage 2, 533 Sutter, SF.