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Holiday must-haves
From lights to pink pigs, metro area has plenty of seasonal traditions

The list goes something like this: watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with family and friends. Braving mall traffic for that perfect present. Experiencing the wonder of the season as seen through the eyes of a child during a visit with Santa. Putting on woolen mittens and scarves and pretending to be cold while ice skating at the Mall of Georgia.

Everyone's got a different seasonal to-do list. Some people go straight for the traditional ventures: The Pink Pig, the Magical Nights of Lights at Lake Lanier and the Festival of Trees. Then there are the more modern takes, such as the Nutcracker Tea at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, the Aurora Theatre's "Christmas Canteen" and watching "A Christmas Story" as it repeats all Christmas Day on TNT.

Here are our top picks for metro-area holiday traditions:

1. The Man in Red: Whether you're wishing for a Red Ryder BB Gun or a brand new iPod, a visit to Santa is a holiday mainstay. Promise the man in red you won't shoot your eye out - or rupture your ear drums - and you just might get those gifts you're begging for. Santa and his helpers have set up winter wonderlands throughout the metro area, including at the Mall of Georgia, Gwinnett Place Mall and Discover Mills. (How convenient.)

2. Not your neighborhood lights display: The folks at Lake Lanier know how important family time is during the holiday season. Their light show spectacular, Magical Nights of Lights, is the perfect way to get to know the gang better. Really, nothing says Christmas like 10 family members shoved into a car, singing along to carols.

Now in its 15th year, Nights of Lights shines with more than 3 million bulbs along a half-mile drive. At the end of the fluorescent holiday rainbow, make sure to stop at the gift shop for pictures with Santa, pony rides and a session of marshmallow roasting.

Entry to the lights extravaganza is $30 per carload Monday through Thursday, and $40 Friday and Saturday. The drive is open from 5 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 30. Visit www.lakelanierislands.com/mnol.

3. Pigs, past and present: Here she is, 54 years old, and Priscilla hasn't aged one bit. Opened at the now-defunct downtown Rich's department store in 1953, the Priscilla the Pink Pig ride is now set up under a 170-foot tent at the Macy's at Lenox Square mall.

Traveling along train tracks, the monorail takes riders through a life-sized storybook tale of Priscilla, Greendog and other holiday pals. The Pink Pig will be open through Jan. 1, and admission is $3 per ride. A portion of all proceeds will be donated to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. Visit www.macys.com.

4. 'Nutcracker' with a twist: The Ritz-Carlton is trying to make the most of your precious holiday time by combining two age-old holiday favorites. The hotel's classic "Children's Tea with Santa" has become "Children's Nutcracker Tea." Instead of face time with the jolly old fella, the tea will feature appearances from the dancers of Atlanta Ballet's "The Nutcracker," with ballerinas performing vignettes from the famed ballet as attendees graze on an array of gourmet goodies.

The "Nutcracker Tea" will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. daily Dec. 18-23 in The Grand Ballroom of the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, 3391 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. Tickets are $52 per adult and $47 per child. As space is limited, reservations are strongly recommended.

5. For one and all: Scrooge, Tiny Tim and all those ghosts carry with them the true spirit of the season. Every year, The Alliance Theatre brings Atlantans a spectacular showing of Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol." The Broadway-scale production features the city's finest actors and singers, some of whom magically materialize and fly in the air.

The show will run through Dec. 24 at the Alliance Theatre. Tickets range in price from $20 to $50. Call 404-733-4690 or visit www.alliancetheatre.org.

Closer to home, check out Aurora Theatre's Anthony Rodriguez and his one-man take on "A Christmas Carol." The production will run through Dec. 23 at the theater, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville. Tickets range in price from $18 to $25. Call 678-226-6222 or visit www.auroratheatre.com.

6. Twinkling trees: Bright lights, glittery streamers and tiny ornaments adorn dozens of evergreens each year at the Festival of Trees. For more than three decades, the festival has ushered in the holiday season for families across the metro area.

More than 60 designer trees and wreaths, an interactive model train, an international village, plus a holiday gift shop will be set up to view - and maybe to glean a few decorating tips of your own. As a double whammy, the holiday upstart fest is a benefit for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

The Festival of Trees will be held through Dec. 30 at the Atlanta History Center, 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. Trees are displayed from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and noon to 5:30 p.m. Sundays.

As part of this year's festivities, more than 40 honorary trees, honoring patients and families of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, will be in display at seven metro area Simon malls. Trees are on display at the Mall of Georgia in Buford, Gwinnett Place Mall in Duluth and Discover Mills in Lawrenceville through today. Visit www.choa.org.

7. Long live the peach: While James is nowhere to be found, the giant peach is back at Underground Atlanta for the New Year's Eve Peach Drop countdown. During the event, now in its 19th year, the 800-pound peach will dangle and fall over the city on New Year's Eve.

This year, attendees will be serenaded by country superstar Miranda Lambert.

The Peach Drop party will kick off with family activities at noon, followed by an evening of fireworks, the 65-second drop and entertainment until 4 a.m. Admission to the drop is free. Visit www.peachdrop.com.