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City lights up for the holidays

Special events, lavish home decorations await visitors
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT The celebration of Christmas begins at the Grotto the day after Thanksgiving with the opening of the “Festival of Lights.”

Portland's holiday season has something for everybody - from churchgoers to beer drinkers to those who wish to recapture the magic of their childhood.

Here are some of the Tribune's picks for the season:

Zoolights

The Oregon Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland, aglow with a million lights. More than 200 animated animals can be seen swinging through trees, hopping across lawns and causing mischief in the night. Displays include tobogganing polar bears, a gathering of life-sized elephants and a light-covered steamer train, which you can ride all around the zoo. Visitors should keep an eye out for silhouettes of gnomes, as the fantastical garden dwellers are part of a new scavenger hunt.

Oregon Zoo, 4001 S.W. Canyon Road, 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; 5 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Nov. 25 to Jan. 1 (closed Dec. 24 and 25); $9 adults, $7.50 seniors (65 and older), $6 children (3 to 11), free for infants

Peacock Lane

Since the 1920s, houses in this charming Southeast Portland neighborhood have been lavishly decorated for Christmas. Mostly Tudors, the houses are adorned with not only breathtaking light displays, but also nativity scenes, rotating Christmas trees and vintage replicas of Santa and Frosty. One walk through, and you'll feel like you've been transported to a simpler time.

Peacock Lane, just east of Southeast 39th Avenue, 6 to 11 p.m. Dec. 15 to 30; 6 p.m. to midnight Dec. 24 and 31; free. Dec. 15 and 16 are pedestrian-only nights; no motor vehicles allowed

Festival of Lights

The beautifully illuminated 62-acre Catholic shrine of the Grotto reflects the special season of hope that Christmas offers. The 2011 festival, which is 'Joy to the World' themed, features nearly 170 indoor holiday concerts performed by many of the region's finest schools, churches and civic choirs. Lots of family entertainment is offered, including outdoor caroling, puppet shows and a petting zoo.

The Grotto, Northeast 85th Avenue and Sandy Boulevard, 5 to 9 p.m. Fridays, Nov. 25 to Dec. 30 (closed Christmas Day); $8 adults, $4 children (3 to 12)

Holiday Ale Festival

Winter is a great time for beer lovers, as hardy stouts and dark ales are perfect for fending off the cold chill of a long winter's night. Each year, the festival brings together more than 40 breweries that each put together special recipes for the holiday season. Gas heaters make for a cozy ambiance under the boughs of one of the region's largest decorated Christmas trees (see Pioneer Courthouse Square Tree below).

Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 S.W. Sixth Ave., 2 to 10 p.m. Nov. 30, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dec. 1 to 4; $25 general admission, $50 VIP tickets

Storybook Lane

Alpenrose Dairy reopens the magical replica town after a six-year hiatus. Stroll the lane and get taken back to a time when claymation Christmas films and Nat King Cole songs were part of every family's holiday tradition. Check out vintage shops decorated for the holidays, listen to carols sung by local high school choirs, watch classic holiday flicks in the old Opera House and have your picture taken with Santa.

Alpenrose Dairy, 6149 S.W. Shattuck Road, 3 to 6 p.m. Dec. 2, 9, 16; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18; free

The Nutcracker

George Balanchine's famous production returns to the Oregon Ballet Theatre. Spark your childhood wonder as you venture to a land where toy soldiers fight armies of rats, snowflakes dance to life and sugarplum fairies rule all. This year, seven performances will feature the full OBT Orchestra.

Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay Ave., Dec. 10 to 24, $21

Winter Wonderland

Visitors can enjoy more than 250 colorful light displays and 40 animated scenes, including a glowing dragon swimming through the grass, all from the comfort of their own vehicles. More than one million spectators have taken the Winter Wonderland journey since its origin 18 years ago, helping to contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars and more than 33 tons of food to local charities.

Portland International Raceway, 1940 N. Victory Blvd., 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; Nov. 24 to Dec. 25 (except Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and 13), $16 car, $18 car with eight people or more, $6 bike (Dec. 5 only)

Pioneer Courthouse Square Tree

Hundreds will gather at the Square to commence the Christmas season with the lighting of the 75-foot tree. This year's event will feature a holiday sing-a-long with Pink Martini, members of the Oregon Symphony and the Pacific Youth Choir.

Pioneer Courthouse Square, 701 S.W. Sixth Ave., 5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27; free

Queen Anne Victorian Mansion Light Show

Roam the halls of the richly appointed mansion, glowing with decorated Christmas trees and decorations. View rooms filled with antiques and vintage heirlooms, and enjoy homemade apple cider while being entertained with live musical performances by local schools and churches.

Queen Anne Victorian Mansion, 1441 North McClellan St., 6 to 10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays; Dec. 10 to 27; $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children (10 and younger)

Pittock Mansion

It's "Christmas Around The World," celebrating multi-cultural Christmas customs at the wonderfully decorated, cherished mansion. A decorating spree Nov. 18-20 gets it going.

Pittock Mansion, 3229 N.W. Pittock Dr., 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 21 to Jan. 2 (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas), $9 adults, $8 seniors (65-over), $6 youth (6-18)

Singing Christmas Tree

It's been a Portland tradition for a half century. Timothy Greenidge, Katie Harman and Jefferson Dancers perform.

Keller Auditorium, 222 S.W. Clay Ave., 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Dec. 1 and 2, 11:30 a.m, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, $17-$65