1. Catch a parade through downtown St. Louis
This Thanksgiving, save a thought for the band parents of the region, who have already been awake for hours while you're still in bed. Why do they get up so early? Because the Thanksgiving Day Parade begins at 8:45 a.m. this morning at Seventh and Market streets (www.christmasinstlouis.org), and chances are their kid is an integral piece of one of the high school marching bands that swell its ranks. More than 130 units ranging from antique fire trucks to giant helium balloon creatures march in the parade, and you can't effectively march without music. Of course Santa Claus famously closes the procession and officially welcomes in Christmas season, but that's a month away. Save your applause for those marching bands (and their dauntless parents) — they've more than earned it.
2. See an impressive zoo lights display
Don't take your kids to any old holiday light display — take them to one of the ten best zoo light displays in America, as ranked by USA Today. U.S. Bank Wild Lights at the Saint Louis Zoo (1 Government Drive; www.stlzoo.org) opens this weekend from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday (November 25 to 27), and it's currently in the running for the best of the bunch (voting continues online through December 5 if you want to weigh in). U.S. Bank Wild Lights offers light displays, sure, but families can also enjoy stories, campfire s'mores, ice carving demonstrations on weekends and special nighttime viewings of Kali the polar bear, Penguin & Puffin Coast, the Monsanto Insectarium and the Sea Lion Sound exhibition. Sessions resume from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday (November 30 to December 11, and then every night except Christmas Eve and Christmas from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. (December 14 to 30). Tickets are $7 to $10, and kids younger than two are free.
3. Get ready for Christmas in St. Charles
How many Santas is too many? Because St. Charles Christmas Traditions has enough Santas to field a couple of basketball teams. The familiar St. Nicholas and Kris Kringle patrol the streets of historic downtown St. Charles (South Main Street and Jackson Street, St. Charles; www.historicstcharles.com), and so do the lesser-known Frontier Santa and Civil War Santa. When you throw in Santa's assorted helpers — Germany's Knecht Ruprecht, who accompanies St. Nicholas; Snegurochka, Russia's Snow Maiden; Le Befana, the Italian woman who preceded Santa with small gifts — and you could make a basketball league. More than 50 holiday figures from around the world are part of St. Charles Christmas Traditions, and each of them has a trading card you can collect. There are even special "bonus cards" for Christmas baddies such as the Krampus, the Ice Queen and Dwight Schrute's favorite, Belsnickel. While you're seeking out these festive friends, you can enjoy shopping, holiday carolers, a fife-and-drum corps and season treats. St. Charles Christmas Traditions opens with a big brouhaha from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, November 25. The fun resumes from 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday (November 26 to December 24). Admission is free.
4. Keep it local on "Indies First Day"
Big-box retail has its official day of frenzy on Black Friday (and increasingly on Turkey Thursday, thanks to the creeping insanity of Christmas shopping), but it doesn't have to be this way. Shopping at locally owned businesses is a great way to reconnect with your community and get a little gift shopping done at the same time. That's why Saturday, November 26, is designated Indies First Day. This tie-in to Small Business Saturday is all about promoting independent bookstores, of which St. Louis has an abundance. Today from from 1 to 5 p.m. at Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue; www.left-bank.com) special guest authors will give readings and offer suggestions for the perfect gift for tough-to-buy-for relatives. Left Bank's specialists include Christina Lane (author of the cooking-for-two books Dessert for Two and Comfort and Joy), suspense master Ridley Pearson, music journalist (and RFT contributor) Ben Westhoff, and professor of finance and former investment banker Ed Morris. Admission is free, so you can buy more books.
Turn the page for more weekend events, including a classic film.
6. See a classic film on the big screen
If the strife of the past month has you down and the stress of the impending holiday season feels like too much too soon, just do what generations of Americans have done: Hide out in a movie theater with an old friend. Blake Edwards' classic romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's returns to big screens at 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday and Wednesday (November 27 and 30) thanks to Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. Audrey Hepburn plays socialite party girl Holly Golightly, who dreams of easy wealth, which she hopes to achieve by attaching herself to a fabulously rich older man. George Peppard is Paul Varjak, a frustrated writer who has his own financial arrangement with an older woman. When Paul and Holly meet, sparks fly. Neither of them are happy with their lives, but maybe they could be if they were together — if only one of them was rich. And sure, Mickey Rooney's turn as a Japanese neighbor is an embarrassing, unfunny racist caricature, but when he shows up on screen, just visit the concession stand. You can see Breakfast at Tiffany's locally at Wehrenberg Ronnies 20 Cine (5329 South Lindbergh Boulevard; www.fathomevents.com). Tickets are $10 to $12.50.
8. Get in the spirit with an Old World Nutcracker
We are on the cusp of December, which makes it the perfect time for The Nutcracker. And what a Nutcracker to start us off this holiday season: The Moscow Ballet presents a lavish production of the dreamy holiday ballet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 30, at the Fox Theater (527 North Grand Boulevard; www.fabulousfox.com). A young girl falls asleep after a visit from old family friend Herr Drosselmeyer and enters a fairy tale world of dancing dolls and an evil Mouse King. Her protector is her toy soldier nutcracker, who comes to life in the form of a handsome prince. The Great Russian Nutcracker has sumptuous costumes, magical props and an incredible Christmas tree that grows right before your eyes. Tickets are $31 to $125.