Looking for something to do with the wee ones? Here are some ideas that ought to keep both kids and parents amused, from watching Santa rappel to taking a ride on the Polar Express.
Look, but don't eat: Most of the entries in this year's National Gingerbread House Competition can be drooled over at Grove Park Inn until Jan. 3. Some of the houses also are displayed at Grove Arcade downtown. Remember to take snacks with you, as small humans may not understand why they aren't allowed to steal bites of the intricate, sugary concoctions.
Festival of lights: Lake Julian's extensive annual light display is kind of kitschy, but fun and inexpensive ($5 per car, $10 per van, and $20 per bus, if you have one). The light extravaganza runs through Dec. 20. Part of the proceeds will support Buncombe County's Special Olympics program.
Santa rappels! Santa will practice his chimney descent techniques on 315-foot high Chimney Rock on Dec. 12 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. No additional cost with Chimney Rock Park admission ($14 for adults, $6 for kids 6-15, free for under 6).
Hanukkah: The Jewish Community Center of Asheville hosts Community Candle Lightings on Dec. 11, 14, 15, 17, and 18 at 5:15 p.m. Join the JCC children for singing, storytelling, and candle lighting. Also, celebrate with a Hanukkah dinner at the JCC on Dec. 13. Cocktail/coketail hour starts at 5:30 p.m., followed by a feast catered by Nona Mia Restaurant and a special kids' buffet. Reservations required. Visit jcc-asheville.org for more information.
Christmas at Vance Birthplace: Experience how Christmas was celebrated in the early 19th century in our southern Appalachian mountains at the Vance birthplace on Reems Creek Road from 4-7 p.m., Dec. 13. The tour includes costumed guides and Christmas music. Visit nchistoricsites.org/vance for more information.
Public ice-skating: I'm lying. There will be no ice-skating at the Asheville Civic Center this year, for the first time since public skating started there in 1999. The city cites cost increases, less tax revenue and equipment problems as reasons for the cut. Forget the thousands of sad kids, there's a human cost here as well for those who worked the rink and depended on that extra annual income to see them through.
Cataloochee Ski Area has a great ski school for kids. Wolf Laurel Ski Area offers private lessons for kids 5 and older, but they also have a Wolf Cub Day program for ages 5 to 7. It's a half or full day supervised program for kids to have fun in the snow, though it doesn't include ski instruction.
Don't forget that hiking is free. So is sledding on the Blue Ridge Parkway, especially when there's snow up there but not down here. For information about which areas of the Parkway are closed to motorized vehicles (but still open to hikers and sledding ninjas), call 298-0398.
The WNC Nature Center's critters can entertain kids for hours. While the bears may be hibernating, some of the other wild animals are friskier in the cold weather than during the heat of summer. Visit wildwnc.org for more information.
The Polar Express: Travel from Bryson City to the North Pole in just a few hours. It's magic! Ride the train, meet Santa, drink vast quantities of hot chocolate and read along with the children's book "The Polar Express" at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. It's pricy, at $38 for adults and $26 for kids, but worth it for trainophiles and mega-holiday spirit. Through Dec. 23. Call 800-872-4681 for schedule and reservations.
Hot fire in the cold: For the second year in a row, the skies over downtown Asheville will light up with fireworks on three celebratory Saturdays. Grove Park Inn sponsors the Asheville Seasonal Sizzle at Seven. Bring your kids downtown by 7 p.m. on Dec. 12 and 19 to enjoy the show. Bring them earlier and support local restaurants and shops.
Christmas at Biltmore: See how (some) folks celebrated Christmas more than 100 years ago. One of the kids in my hood said she counted 58 decorated Christmas trees at Biltmore this year. Santa hangs out at River Bend Barn every weekend. As always, kids 9 and under are free. From Dec. 20-24, kids 16 and younger are free. There's also a new pizza next to the Ice Cream Parlor (two of my kids' primary food groups in one place). Visit www.biltmore.com for more information and to purchase discounted on-line adult tickets.
You can never have too much Nutcracker: There are multiple performances of the classic (and kind of psychedelic) holiday ballet. Asheville Ballet's "The Nutcracker" will play at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11-12 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 12-13 at Diana Wortham Theatre. The Ballet Conservatory of Asheville presents "The Nutcracker" at 7 p.m. on Dec. 18, again at Diana Wortham. Then, on Dec. 22, the Moscow Ballet offers "The Great Russian Nutcracker" at 7:30 p.m. at Thomas Wolfe Auditorium. Visit dwtheatre.org for tickets to the performances at Diana Wortham and ticketmaster.com to see the Russians do it up.
Holiday camps: Sadly, most parents don't get to take two weeks off over the holidays while the kids are out of school. If that's you, here are some fun holiday camp options:
The Asheville Art Museum offers a Holiday Arts Extravaganza for first through fourth graders from 1-4 p.m., Dec. 28-31. Register at ashevilleart.org.
The Jewish Community Center has a full-day program during the school break for kids in kindergarten-fifth grades. Program includes field trips to places like ClimbMax and Waynesville Recreation Center (best inside swim spot around). More information at jcc-asheville.org.
Both the YWCA and the YMCA offer holiday day camps. The YW's program funs from 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. and includes lunch and an afternoon snack. Register at ywcaofashveville.com. The YM's full-day holiday programs take place at both Avery's Creek Elementary and the YMCA's Beaverdam location. Call 210-2273 to register.
Kwanzaa: Celebrate African-American culture with food and entertainment at Union Grove Family Life Center in Hendersonville from 3-6 p.m., Dec. 16. Call 697-9698 for more information.