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Holiday for one
Area offers alternatives to family gatherings

I admit that, for the vast majority of my life, I have been a traditionalist and averse to change - especially when it comes to the holidays. I like to open Christmas presents on Christmas Day, starting with the stockings and having each family member take turns opening a gift, the youngest going first. I like to go to a movie on Christmas Day, and then come home for turkey, cranberry sauce and my mom's ultra-dry, almost inedible stuffing.

That is Christmas. That is how it should be.

And then I entered the adult world and was hit with the realization that is not how it will always be. Family members move away, schedules don't always coordinate and despite your best efforts, you may not all be together on Christmas day.

That's the boat I have found myself in this year. I'll be celebrating Christmas a few days early with my family, and then spending the actual Tuesday holiday with friends in the area. I have shaken myself of my traditionalist ways, and actually, I'm looking forward to a holiday of non-travel.

While there is not a Solo on Christmas Institute from which I can pull statistics, I have learned from talking with co-workers, friends and area business owners that there are plenty of others facing the same holiday fate.

"We actually stay very busy on Christmas," said Nick Oltarsh, executive chef for Lobby at Twelve in Atlantic Station. "It's pretty split between the hotel crowd and area residents looking for a great holiday meal. Some people have made going out to dinner their own holiday tradition. Some people come eat here because they aren't with their family. Either way, it means there are no dishes to clean up."

A solo holiday doesn't have to equate dinner at Waffle House and endless reruns of "A Christmas Story" on TNT. With a group or on your own, there are plenty of things to keep area residents occupied all Christmas day:

' Reel holiday: Not all the traditions have to be thrown out the window just because you're not surrounded by family. Going to the movies - without crying little cousins and nagging grannies - can be just the ticket for a fun-filled day. Christmas has long been hailed as the premiere movie day of the year, with a slew of films opening. On the docket for 2007 are buzz-worthy flicks like "The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep" and "The Great Debaters," plus "Juno" and "Atonement," both of which opened Dec. 21 but are being touted as two of the best movies of the year.

' Dig in: Forget Mom's dry stuffing. I've got real food this year. A holiday feast is completely possible, even without home cooking. And in my case, especially without home cooking. In the metro, our top picks for holiday-friendly fare can be found at the following eateries:

' Lobby at Twelve and Room at Twelve: Talk about a happy holiday. Lobby at Twelve Atlantic Station and sister restaurant Room at Twelve Centennial Park will both dish out a Christmas buffet sure to make memories. Included among the gaggle of goodies will be a carving station of traditional entrees, a seafood station, a salad bar, a trimmings and fixings station, and all the gourmet dessert you could imagine. Room will also offer a huge sushi bar, and Lobby will feature a pizza bar. The buffet will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is $44 for adults and $17 for children. Visit www.concentricsrestaurants.com.

' Chateau Elan: Chic 365 days of the year, Chateau Elan is especially elegant by the glow of holiday candlelight. Head to the vineyard for a taste of Christmas joy, thanks to a holiday buffet offered from noon to 7:30 p.m. Adults are $50 per plate, children ages 6 to 11 are $25 per plate, and children under 5 years old eat for free. Visit www.chateauelanatlanta.com.

' Chin Chin: The Duluth eatery, located directly across from the Gwinnett Center, is a hot bed for holiday dinners. Open all Christmas Day, the Asian restaurant serves a mean plate of sushi and wonderfully tangy sweet and sour chicken. Call 770-813-1319.

' Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead: It's an Atlanta tradition that will hopefully never die. Nationally renowned for it's enticing menu and enchanting atmosphere, The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead is a magic spot for holiday meals. The annual Christmas buffet fills several rooms with fantastic fare, and is ever family-friendly. Call 404237-2700 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

' Imperial Fez: Want something more exotic than fruitcake for your holiday? Imperial Fez is your place. In fact, you might as well call it Imperial Fez-stive. Dishing out scrumptious plates of Moroccan home cooking, the restaurant boasts a versed menu to please even the most timid of eaters. Call 404-351-0870 or visit www.imperialfez.com.

- Silent knight: Silent night? No no, it's silent knight. Maybe they didn't take holidays off in the Middle Ages, or maybe they're just hoping to cash in on stir-crazy kids who need to get out of the house after hours of opening gifts. Whatever the case, Medieval Times will be up and running Christmas day. The joust-cheering, turkey-leg-scarfing, princess-swooning fun will begin at 6 p.m., with the castle officially opening at 3 p.m. Tickets are $47.95 for adults, and $37.95 for children. Call 770-225-0230 or visit www.medievaltimes.com.

- Comfort, joy and good tidal pool: Holiday or no, fish have no concept of real time. Which is why the Georgia Aquarium will be open Christmas Day. From the adorable tuxedo-clad penguins to the giant beluga whales and mysterious jellyfish, all the facets of the downtown attraction will be in full swing from noon to 6 p.m. Daily admission to the aquarium is $22.75 for adults, $19.50 for those 55 and up, and $17 for ages 3 to 12. Call 404-581-4000 or visit www.georgiaaquarium.org .