"Cowboy Santa": Sort of a cross between Tom Mix and Saint Nick, this version of the jolly old elf wears an honest-to-gosh ten-gallon hat instead of that little red number adorned withthe cotton ball. He delivers gifts and good cheer via horseback in a benefit planned for 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Stouffer Renaissance Cottonwoods Resort, 6160 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. A breakfast buffet is included in the cost of admission: $12.95, $5.95 for kids, plus a donation for Crisis Nursery. Reservations are recommended; call 991-1414, extension 721.
"Holiday Happenings Around the World": Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway, in Papago Park, hosts the latest installment in its yearlong festival "The Celebration of the Natural World," which continues through September. Through December 30, kids learn about the seasonal celebrations of other cultures. Highlights include the "Ho! Ho! Holiday Hay Maze," gift-making sessions and art classes. These and related events are free with regular admission: $7, $6 for seniors, $3.50 for kids ages 4 to 12, free for younger children and zoo members. Call 273-1341 or 273-7771.
Santa's Castle: A house full of holiday joy awaits kids of all ages at the Clauses' desert digs, 4237 West State (off 43rd Avenue, three blocks north of Glendale Avenue). Eight of the home's rooms have been transformed into thematic wonderlands, including the North Pole, the South Pole and an ice cave. Hours are 6 to 10 nightly, through Christmas. Admission is free. Call 937-3482.
Santa's Hot Line: Helpers from Glendale Adult Center man the phones from 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday. Kids can tell Santa what they want for Christmas; if Mr. Claus is otherwise engaged, callers can leave a message with Mrs. Claus. Call 930-2196.
"Wild Winter Nights": Wildlife World Zoo has zoo lights, too. Like Phoenix Zoo's popular ZooLights event (see Thursday in Pic Hits), the display features thousands of lights placed strategically around the grounds at the menagerie, 165th Avenue and Northern in Litchfield Park. Unlike Phoenix Zoo, Wildlife World Zoo allows some of its critters, including white tigers Sir Lunge-a-Lot and Mrs. Lunge-a-Lot, to stay up late and enjoy the show. Other highlights include visits by Santa and his reindeer, special Wildlife Encounters shows and live entertainment. "Wild Winter Nights" continues from 5:30 to 9:30 nightly, through February 3. Special admission is $4, free for kids age 2and under. For details call 935-9453.
arts and minds
"A Child Is a Gift": Works by artists-in-training from South Mountain Magnet Arts High School, the Coalition of Black Artists, and the ArtWeb program of Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix are displayed in this exhibit, which continues through January 2 at Symphony Hall, 225 East Adams. Viewing is during scheduled events only. For details call 954-8182 or 262-7272.
"Jazzy Jewelry": In this workshop, accompanied kids ages 5 to 10 create gifts using Fimo clay. The session is scheduled for 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Scottsdale Center for the Arts, 7380 East Second Street. The fee is $18, $16 for members, and includes admission for one child and one parent; preregistration is required. Call 994-2315 or 994-2787.
"Taste of Art": Tempe Arts Center, located at Tempe Beach Park, First Street and Mill, hosts this series of introductory art classes for children ages 7 to 11. In "Lanterns o' Light," scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, kids make clay candles. The fee is $15, $12 for members. For details call 968-0888.
at the museum
"Bear With Us": This exhibit at Arizona Museum for Youth, 35 North Robson in Mesa, features multimedia representations of bruins of all shapes and sizes by Joe Baker, Carolyn Lavender, Anne Coe, Linda and Don Asakawa, Tom Franklin, Alonzo Jimenez, Ree Nancarrow and Dick George, plus interactive games and learning activities. It continues through February 2. Hours are 1to 5p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 10a.m. to 5p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $2, free for kids under 2. Call 644-2467.
"The Great Russian Dinosaurs": Mesa Southwest Museum, 53 North Macdonald, presents this major touring exhibition co-sponsored by City of Mesa and Paleontological Institute of Moscow. It features 24 full skeletons, as well as remains of dino nests, eggs and hatchlings, 50 skulls and dozens of other specimens collected this century from sites in Russia and Mongolia; many of them have never before been displayed in the West. The American premiere of the installation continues through February 4. Expanded hours are in effect throughout the exhibit's run: 9a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $5, free for kids age 2 and under. Call 644-2230.
"Ornament Geometry" and "Computer Works": In the former, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and December 16 at Arizona Science Center, 147 East Adams, children create seasonal ornaments based on geometric forms; participation is free with regular admission, plus a fee to cover the cost of materials. "Computer Works" explores the elements required to run a computer and how they relate to one another; it continues indefinitely. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 5p.m. Sundays. Admission is $4.50, $3.50 for kids ages 4 to 12 and seniors, free for kids age 3 and younger. Call 256-9518 or 258-7250.