Holiday Guide 2009: Get in the seasonal spirit without losing your mind or wallet 

So the presents are wrapped, the bows are primped, the boxes are mailed, last year's cards are recycled, er, signed, and the wish lists are nothing but crossed-off lines. At ease, people—it's time to actually enjoy the sights and samplings the season has to offer. After all, there's more to the holiday season than shopping, or so we read in a catalog someplace.

What's that, you say? Morale is low, and operating funds are lower? You say you can't trudge one more step or abide the thought of figgy pudding? We can only say: This is Christmastime, people. No one gets left behind. To restore your spirit, we provide a list of events and activities that'll have you whistling "O Tanenbaum" in no time, at minimal cost and risk of exhaustion.

Opryland Hotel
Its "Ice!" and Radio City Rockettes holiday attractions may be expensive, but a walk through the hotel itself is just as dazzling—and there's no charge. (Not if you park in the Opry Mills lot, that is.) With what you save, splurge on an $8 boat ride through the hotel's Delta section, with its lighted fountains, Paul Bunyan-sized Christmas tree and countless spider-webbed lights. As you leave, drive past the front entrance, where entire trees stand netted in lights like a forest of phosphorescent broccoli. Cost: free. (Through New Year's Day)

Chad's Winter Wonderland, Lebanon
See that glow on the horizon? It's Chad Barnard's 27th annual Christmas spectacular, featuring—deep breath—2 million lights, 90 drive-through arches, more than 350 pieces of scenery, 15,000 feet of extension cords, and a Santa's home you can actually drive through. Oh, and a dancing snowman. Top that, Opryland. It's at 791 E. Old LaGuardo Road in Lebanon; call 758-8300 or consult for directions. Cost: $8, and a donation of canned goods gets $3 off the next visit. (5-10 p.m. Thanksgiving through New Year's Day)

The Festival of Lights, Lebanon
It's a little bit Bethlehem, a little bit North Pole, and a whole lotta Las Vegas Strip as Lebanon's James E. Ward Agricultural Center blankets a portion of its 267 acres in hundreds of thousands of lights for its 12th annual holiday-themed driving tour. Past years have featured the Nativity, a mailbox where kids can mail letters to Santa, and the Grinch cooling his green heels in the Fiddlers Grove jail. Cost: $5 per carload. (5-9 p.m. every Thursday-Saturday, starting Nov. 27 through December)

Christmas in Brentwood
Through December, the foothills of Williamson County will be strung with necklaces of emeralds, rubies and garnets—jigawatt strands of Christmas lights that turn some of the state's wealthiest enclaves into a blingy wonderland. Watch out for the limos snaking up the narrow, winding streets of subdivisions such as Fountainhead off Franklin Road, which perennially puts on one of the most lavish decoration efforts in the mid-state. Be warned: weekend nights before Christmas become close to impassable. Cost: free. (Take I-65S to Old Hickory/Brentwood exit, travel south on Franklin Road; evenings through Dec. 31 at dusk)

Dickens of a Christmas
There'll be no bleak houses but plenty of great expectations as—please, somebody kill us before we get to Dombey and Son gags. But even if you don't know Dickens about the author's work beyond A Christmas Carol—you know, the one with Jim Carrey—don a top hat and frock coat and join the multitudes on Franklin's historic Main Street for a Victorian Christmas celebration. Meet Scrooge, Tiny Tim and other Dickens characters played by more than 275 volunteers, and enjoy entertainment from street performers, carolers and a water-harmonica player. Word to the wise: Don't request "Get Up, Stand Up" from Marley's ghost. Cost: free. (Dec. 12-13)

It's a Wonderful Life at The Belcourt
At once the most elating and depressing Christmas movie ever made, Frank Capra's 1946 classic isn't something to watch alone at home between commercials, where you might doze off into an eggnog-laced funk. At the Belcourt's festive annual screenings, folks have been known to bust into "Auld Lang Syne" along with Zuzu, Uncle Billy and the rest of Bedford Falls—a cup of kindness yet, indeed. Speaking of which, did we mention The Belcourt serves alcohol? Have Nick the bartender set you up (or cut you off). Cost: $8.50 adults, $5.75 children 11 & under; all members $5.75. (Dec. 19-25)

Christmas Radio
There are some things an iPod just can't do, and one is tug your heartstrings. For that, tune in The Mix 92.9 FM between 7 p.m. and midnight for radio call-in queen Delilah, whose dedication-line sob stories of Yuletide partings and reunions could reduce Jack Bauer to helpless blubbering. The rest of the time, through Dec. 25, The Mix devotes its entire broadcast day to Christmas music, as does Christian station The Fish 94.1 FM. Let your preference for Bruce Springsteen's "Merry Christmas Baby" or contemporary-Christian carols guide your selection. Cost: free. Chance of sending your kids into an epic giggle fit with "The Chipmunk Song": priceless.


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