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Area aglow with holiday festivities

From twinkling lights to breakfast with Santa, there's no shortage of ways to get into the Christmas spirit - even before Thanksgiving.

Don't miss Lake Lanier Islands' Magical Nights of Lights celebration, which runs from 5 to 10 p.m. nightly Saturday through Dec. 30. The resort is under new ownership this year, which will put its own stamp on the event.

New this year will be a live nativity scene, nine new light displays and an improved Santa Shop, where kids can share their list with a new Santa and parents can browse new merchandise. The nativity scene, staffed by Blackshear Place Baptist Church, will begin Dec. 1.

The main attraction, the lights display, is a six-mile driving tour of giant, illuminated characters made up of millions of twinkling lights. Displays include the 12 Days of Christmas, Santa's elves at work, the North Pole Express and an animated sliding penguin. After the tour, a new Holiday Village will have a bonfire for roasting marshmallows, pony and amusement rides and holiday food.

Entry into the Magical Nights of Lights is $25 per car Monday through Thursday, $30 per car Friday through Sunday, $45 per passenger van and $125 per bus, plus tax. For more information, visit www.lakelanierislands.com.

At the opposite end of the county, A Stone Mountain Christmas runs through Dec. 30. The event evokes a small-town Christmas feel and includes Christmas decor, live shows, Santa Claus, train rides and a fireworks and snowfall show each night. The festivities run on the weekends through Dec. 18 and nightly through Dec. 30. Admission is $13 or $11 for children. Visit www.stonemountainpark.com.

Also at Stone Mountain Village, ART Station Theatre will present "A Broadway Christmas Carol," featuring a mix of the classic Dickens story with song parodies of favorite Broadway show tunes. The show runs from Nov. 30 through Dec. 23 at ART Station Theatre, 5384 Manor Drive. For more information, visit www.artstation.org.

City-by-city festivities

Each of the county's cities have holiday events of their own planned. Here are some of the highlights:

•The Buford Christmas Parade and festivities begin at 2 p.m. Saturday. The route starts at the intersection of Hill and Main streets and follows down Main Street through downtown Buford. The grand marshal will be Santa Claus, and other participants will be Miss Buford winners, the Buford Marching Band and the Buford Chorus, led by Ed McQuaid. Afterwards, kids can visit Santa in the Buford square. For more information, call 770-932-9990.

•Lawrenceville's downtown square will play host to lots of holiday activities. The annual tree lighting ceremony for both the city and county will take place on Thursday. Visitors can enjoy the arrival of Santa Claus, live entertainment, caroling, carriage and wagon rides and courthouse tours. Following the tree lighting, the courthouse will be open from 4:30 to 8 p.m. daily through Dec. 18 for Santa visits and tours.

Also back this year is the city's popular "Ice Skating on the Square," running Nov. 24 through Jan. 2. A parking lot will be transformed into an ice skating rink that defies warm temperatures. The hours will vary based on whether school is in or out of session.

•The city of Snellville will hold its annual Tree Lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. Dec. 5 at T.W. Briscoe Park. Activities will include a puppet show, elves, carolers, refreshments and Santa Claus.

•At Lilburn's annual Christmas parade, Atlanta Braves rookie Jeff Francouer, a Parkview High School graduate, will serve as grand marshal. The parade is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Dec. 10 at the Market Square shopping center, and will wrap up in Old Town Lilburn at City Hall. The parade is a fundraiser for the Lilburn Cooperative Ministry, and all proceeds and canned goods collected will go to that group.

Breakfasts with Santa

If your kids are aching for a chance to dine with the Big Man himself, there's no shortage of opportunities.

Lake Lanier Islands' breakfast with Santa events will be held at the resort's Windows Restaurant from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 26-27, Dec. 3-4, Dec. 10-11 and Dec. 17-24. The cost for adults is $13.95 Monday through Saturday and $14.95 Sundays, and for kids it's $6.95. Children under 6 get in free. Reservations - not required, but recommended - can by obtained by calling 770-945-8787. The cost includes a holiday breakfast buffet.

The Southeastern Railway Museum will have a breakfast with Santa series of its own, with dates on Saturday, Nov. 26, Dec. 3, Dec. 10 and Dec. 17. Admission is $3 per person in addition to museum admission. Reservations are required and can be made by calling 770-476-2013 or at the museum's front gate, 3595 Peachtree Road in Duluth, during museum hours. Breakfast attendees will have priority seating on the 10 and 11 a.m. train rides with Santa.

Finally, kids can meet Stone Mountain Park's famous Santa Claus, Ed Butchart, at a breakfast with Santa event benefiting the nonprofit group Friends of Disabled Adults and Children, which helps provide wheelchairs to those in need. The event runs from 10 a.m. to noon Dec. 17 at the Marriott Evergreen Conference Resort. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for children 5-12, and they can be purchased by calling 770-491-9014 or at the door.