Run over by a reindeer

HOLIDAY GUIDE: Fill your season with the best bets for cupcake-making, candle-lighting, solstice reflection, and local retail

The Union Square tree lighting is a highlight -- but there are plenty of alternatives for lowkey holiday celebrants this year.


Union Square ice-skating rink Union Square, SF. Through Jan. 16, 10 a.m.-11:30 p.m. except for when closed for private parties, $10 for 90-minute session. Sweetheart, the rink is open, grab my hand and try not to twist an ankle as we glide in circles around downtown's living room.

Westin St. Francis sugar castle Westin St. Francis, Landmark Lobby, 335 Powell, SF. Through Jan. 24, on view 24 hours/day. Don't lick it. For although this ever-growing sweet behemoth which each holiday season occupies the lobby of downtown's classic luxury digs with its 1,300 pounds, 20 towers, 30 rooms, and sugar replicas of 2012's movers and shakers has a hold on our heart, its original dimensions were sugar-spun back in 2005. Incredibly made, undeniably festive, but altogether inappropriate for dietary purposes.

Jack London Square holiday tree lighting Jack London Square, Oakl. Nov. 30, 4:30-7pm, free. Performances by Disney-approved pop stars! Reindeer petting zoo! Miss California 2012 and a kids dress-up station with costumes from the Oakland Ballet! You'll be hard-pressed not to find some holiday cheer at this annual lighting of Jack London's fir tree for the masses.

Oakland-Alameda Estuary Lighted Yacht Parade Visible from Jack London Square, Oakl. Dec. 1, 5:30pm, free. Let those cheeks get rosy, it's boat-watching time. This yearly tradition sees the yacht owners of the East Bay putting their aquatic rides on display, stringing bulbs galore across decks and sails.

Festival of lights Union between Van Ness and Steiner, Fillmore between Union and Lombard, SF. Dec. 1, 3-7pm, free. Wiggle your nose at Santa at this explosion of twinkly tinsel and Cow Hollow reindeer — today Union Street puts on the holiday glitz and lays out the welcome mat. Cudworth Mansion (2040 Union) will be hosting a cupcake-decorating session from 3:30-5:30pm, at which Old St. Nick himself will make an appearance out front.

Golden Gate Park holiday tree lighting McLaren Lodge, 501 Stanyan, SF. Dec. 6, 5pm, free. A tradition started by Golden Gate Park grandfather and San Francisco's first park superintendent John McLaren in 1929, the lighting of the tree returns to Fell Street for the 83rd year in a row. Accompanying fanfare includes live performances, carnival rides, and a visit from Saint Nick.

Great Dickens Christmas Fair Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva, SF. Fri/23 and Sat.-Sun. Sat/24-Dec. 23, 10am-7pm, $21-25. For an ace weekend drunk this holiday season, toodle over to the Cow Palace. Once ensconced in the warm period embrace of the Dickens Fair, you will have the run of five bars (absinthe!), a multitude of meat pie shoppes, hilarious accents, near-constant stage shows, and the company of "famous Victorians," including Charles Dickens and Her Majesty, the queen herself.

Family holiday crafts day Randall Museum, 199 Museum Way, SF. (415) 554-9600, Dec. 1, 10am-3pm, free admission, activities fees vary. Bring the kiddos to the always-free-admission Randall Museum so they can spend the morning making holiday decorations and gifts. Cap off the morning with a performance by Asian American performance troupe Eth-Noh-Tec and its fusion of ancient and contemporary movement.

Community Hanukkah candle lighting Jewish Community Center, 3200 California, SF. (415) 292-1200, Dec. 8-14, 4:30pm, free. Join up with your neighbors for the Jewish Community Center's daily lighting of the menorah in the building's atrium. Attend the Shabbat celebration on Dec. 14 for a family storytelling session, grape juice, hallah, and Hanukkah gelt.

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