Depending on your situation, Christmas Eve is either the happiest night of the year or the most depressing, and for some people, it's both. Sure, you get to be around all of your family, but hey, you also get to be around all of your family. But what if you don't have a group of relatives to drink eggnog with? Or, what if you do, but you don't want to spend Christmas Eve basking in the glow of Uncle Roy's patented pull-my-finger routine, and playing kickball with the fruitcake just isn't as much fun as it was when you were 12? A good place to hide out from Christmas for a few hours and down a couple or 10 bourbon-and-Cokes is the Balcony Club. Sit back and listen to the cool jazz of the Al Dupree Trio, or steel yourself for another chorus of, "Why can't we ever have a nice family Christmas without any shouting?" It's your choice. After all, Christmas isn't for everyone. The Balcony Club, 1825 Abrams, opens at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve and at 8 p.m. on Christmas day. Call (214) 826-8104.
As it has for the past eight years, the Lakewood Theatre is offering a free Christmas Day dinner, complete with Christmas classics played on the theater's restored 1927 theater organ, a performance by the Texas Gilbert and Sullivan Company Chorus, and a Christmas movie. The dinner is the best kind of bribe, a way to get people to come by the theater with donations of food, clothing, blankets, and toys for families whose Christmas stockings have holes in the toes. It's a great way to give something back, even as you're getting a little yourself. You can play with your new toys when you get home. The free Christmas dinner happens at the Lakewood Theatre, 1825 Abrams, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you can't come by during the dinner, the Lakewood is accepting donations in advance from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday. Call (214) 821-9084.
We're a bit embarrassed to admit it, but we've always had a soft spot for polka music. In fact, in high school, we were in a polka-dancing group that performed at other high schools and senior-citizen homes around the area. Cut us some slack: We grew up in a predominantly Czech town where drinking pivo (beer) and dancing to oompah-oompah music were two of the biggest sports. As a result, we've always appreciated Brave Combo and its attempt to bring polka to a new audience (read: people younger than 70 years old who don't speak in thick "old country" accents). And just try to pry the band's 1992 Christmas disc, It's Christmas, Man!, out of our CD player around this time of year. To keep the holiday party rolling straight on through the new year, Brave Combo will host a post-Christmas dance at the Gypsy Tea Room on Saturday, with special guests Czech and Then Some. Of course, now that you know about our polka past, we'll have to kill you. Admission is $10. Doors open at 7 p.m.; the show starts at 9 p.m. The Gypsy Tea Room is located at 2548 Elm. Call (214) 74-GYPSY.
For a change of pace from the standard Christmas fare, Earthly Pleasures presents its annual concert of Christmas music from the Renaissance. What exactly does Christmas music from the Renaissance entail? you may ask. Well, we're not exactly sure, other than the fact that it's played on instruments like recorders, krummhorns, and viols. Plus, we're pretty sure you can call women "wenches" while attending the concert. Actually, we're not sure about that, but our only exposure to anything medieval comes from the turkey-legs-and-tournaments restaurant Medieval Times and constant repetition of Ving Rhames' "I'm gonna get medieval on your ass" catchphrase from Pulp Fiction. This much we are sure of: Soprano Audrey Keenan-Brown will be featured, along with instrumentalists David Barton, Susan Barton, Carol Diehl, Chris Lanz, Judson Maynard, Hazel Mosely, and Kim Shrier. The concert happens at 4 p.m. at Casa View United Methodist Church, 9998 Ferguson Road. The concert is free, but a $10 donation is requested. Call (214) 327-6823.
There's nothing like a good old-fashioned chess match to really say "Happy Holidays." OK, so there are probably a million other things that say it better, but many of the best college chess players will be in Dallas to participate in the 1998 Pan American Intercollegiate Team Chess Championships. More than 40 teams from throughout the United States, Canada, and Central and South America will be on hand for what tournament organizers call "the Super Bowl of college chess." Members of the University of Texas at Dallas team, as well as many Grand Master-level players, will compete. The event, hosted by UTD and the Dallas Chess Club, happens December 26-29 at the Westin Park Central Dallas Hotel, LBJ Freeway and Coit Road. Members of the public may attend the tournament free of charge, as long as they remain quiet during the matches. Guess that rules out starting up a "U-S-A, U-S-A!" chant. Call (972) 883-2898.
If you think artist Kelly Wyly Elliott's new series of "Frog Prince" acrylic paintings are reminiscent of Jim Henson's old series of Kermit the Frog movies, well, you're probably not alone. Elliott's frogs share Kermit's wide, white eyes and face that collapses like a house of cards, and both have a sense of whimsy about them, though Elliott's work seems also to have been influenced by the Budweiser talking-frog spots. It's not exactly highbrow, but it provides a nice balance to the Pablo Picasso exhibition also on display at the Elliott Yeary Gallery. Elliott's "Frog Prince" series will hang at the gallery, 6817 Snider Plaza, through January. Call (214) 265-1565.
If you asked us to name our top five films of the year, we'd probably include the trailer for Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, the first installment of George Lucas' three prequels to the Star Wars trilogy. It was the best two minutes to hit theaters since Ray Liotta's Henry Hill wound his way through a crowded nightclub in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. Unfortunately, it whetted our appetite for the new film much too soon; it's not even being released until mid-May, and already we're trying to decide how we're going to ditch work to stand in line for tickets. Luckily, Sega GameWorks has just installed its latest attraction, the Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. The game is patterned after the three original films (Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi for those who still don't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek), allowing players to ride, fly, and shoot through six stages featuring scenes taken from each of the films. That's enough to satisfy us. For now. Sega GameWorks is located in the Grapevine Mills Mall, 3000 Grapevine Mills Parkway, just off Texas 121. Call (972) 53-