The Best of Times, The First of Times

The Ninth Annual "Christmas at First" Dickens Festival closes the book on another holiday season this weekend, after festivalgoers devour the last of 30,000 holiday cookies, 20,000 cups of cider and 15,000 bags of popcorn. (More? They ask for more?)Though the indigence of Dickens' world may not be represented, the event does Dickens right in its life-size old English village, where Ebenezer and Tiny Tim interact with fellow townspeople. More good old times can be had in the Bethlehem Village, where a petting zoo, potters, basket weavers and woodworkers surround a live Nativity scene -- a new addition this year.

"I believe our guests will find this to be a very peaceful scene that depicts the crude setting in which the Christ child was born," says Kenyon Ackeberg, minister of worship/outreach events at First Christian Church of Phoenix, which hosts the festival.

Guests also can sample homemade candy, cookies and fudge at the Sweet Shoppe; catch ventriloquist and illusionist performances in the Children's Theatre; and warm up with cookies and cider in the Gingerbread Village Hospitality Tent.

Festivities run from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, December 19, through Sunday, December 21, at the church, 6750 North Seventh Avenue. Admission is free, but tickets are required, and guests are encouraged to bring toys for Every Kids Counts, a nonprofit group serving needy children. See or call 602-246-9206 for tickets.- Jill Koch

Fest Western

The holidays go out in a blaze of glory

If six geese a'laying don't trip your loved one's trigger, fire up the holidays with six guns a'shooting. Rawhide Wild West Town gives the season a shot in the arm, celebrating its "Cowboy Christmas" with a holiday Six Gun Theater Show, among other attractions. Continuing through January 4, the daily festivities and not-so-silent nights include more traditional touches as well: snowflakes a'falling, marshmallows a'roasting, holiday tunes a'warbling, plus the fat man in fur. While the cattle and assorted creatures are lowing in Santa's stables and pettin' ranch, a 100-foot-tall "tree of lights" towers over Rawhide's Main Street. Join in the holiday hoopla at 23023 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. Admission is free. Call 480-502-5600 or see - Jill Koch

O, Christmas Tease

Performance is more naughty than nice

Fri 12/19
It came upon a midnight leer -- and who wouldn't? "Contemporary striptease virtuoso" Catherine D'Lish slinks onto the scene this Friday, December 19, giving a peek performance in Burlesque (xxxMas). Poised at the forefront(al) of the neo-burlesque movement, D'Lish gets props for her props -- a gilded birdcage, a gigantic spider web, her infamous champagne glass -- as well as for her ornate costumes and well-rounded, uh, talents. Showtime is 6:30 p.m. at Tempe's Marquee Theatre, 730 North Mill, with Denver band DeVotchKa warming up the crowd (probably not altogether necessary). For tickets to the 21-and-over show -- $20 in advance, $25 day of -- see or call 480-784-4444. - Jill Koch

Magical Mystery Store

Serene Nativity scene deserves a Stop n' Look

According to Andy Williams, "it's the most wonderful time of the year." But with holiday stress, war anxiety and a flu epidemic, it's also easy to lose sight of life's simple pleasures. Our quick prescription for banishing your inner Scrooge? See "Winter Wonderland," an installation created by Beatrice Moore and Bob Adams, on display at Stop n' Look, 1025 Grand Avenue. A weird, whimsical confection of tinsel, glittery pine cones, pipe cleaner insects and plush creatures creates a surreal Nativity scene -- baby Jesus on a sparkly bed of garland, a doll-headed Mary with a Mr. Potato Head Joseph, and a fat, naked Santa doll looking on. It's a candy-colored appeal to lighten up, made directly to your inner child. The storefront exhibit is on view 24 hours a day, through February 4. - Michele Laudig

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Jill Koch
Contact: Jill Koch