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Busy tots willing to get to Woodfield Mall an hour before it opens can book an appointment to climb on the knee of this year's jolly old elf for five minutes of face time without a wait. Appointments for the Santa Express are between 8 and 9 AM, weekdays only, through December 8. Woodfield Mall, said to be Illinois' number one tourist attraction, is located at Golf Road and Route 53 in Schaumburg. Santa will be holding his tete-a-tetes in the mall's Grand Court, at the foot of the largest indoor Christmas tree in the Chicago area. It's free; call 847-330-0035 between 9 and 5 Monday through Friday to make an appointment.

In order to drive home the reality of AIDS, the Humboldt Park-based prevention project Vida/SIDA enlisted HIV-infected people in the community to work with a group of Latino artists--including storyteller Ramon Lopez and experimental media artist Cesar Sanchez--to create pieces that reflect their experience. The opening for the new exhibit Circulation/Circulacion kicks off at 5 with a World AIDS Day candlelight vigil and walk from Division and Western to the Puerto Rican Cultural Center at 2739 W. Division, Chicago (773-278-6737). A free reception takes place there from 6 to 8:30.


The vagina is not a passive organ, insists Austin-based artist Kerthy Fix. She sets out to prove as much each time she assumes the character of Pussilla, donning a wrestler's outfit, attaching a rope to a cervical cap-like device in her vagina, and pulling things--wagons, cinder blocks--across the stage, using her Kegel muscles. She'll attempt to pull a person on a cart at tonight's Christmas-themed installment of the Radical Faeries' Sexy Feast of Fools Cabaret, where the lineup includes choreographer Asimina Chremos, "one-person Christmas carol" Victoria Lamarr, pianist Taylor E. Ross, and Silky Jumbo & Jo Jo. It's hosted by Fausto Fernos and starts at 10 at HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, Chicago (312-362-9707).


Those stuck in traffic may want to curse the 12,000 women and men (and at least one Santa) who will ride in today's Toys for Tots Annual Motorcycle Parade, but last year they collected 35,000 toys and raised $152,000 for needy kids. You can donate toys (minus plush animals, which tend to get filthy by parade's end) anywhere along the route, which departs from the Dan Ryan Woods at 85th and Western in Chicago at 9:30 and travels 17 miles north on Western to the Marine Corps Reserve Center at Foster and Troy. It's free to watch; riders are required to donate one toy. Call 773-866-8697 or see for more.

The Oak Park Conservatory is ablaze with poinsettias for its free Holiday Open House today. From noon to 4 you can wander through the desert room, fern room, and tropical forest room of this elegant 70-year-old institution. Santa will be there, along with refreshments and the music of Brass Nickel and roving harmonicist John Milan; budding paperwhite narcissi, decorative swags, and handmade gifts will be available for sale. The conservatory is located at 615 Garfield, next to the Eisenhower Expressway. Call 708-386-4700.


In December of 1900 a Tribune writer predicted that by 2000 gift giving would be considered vulgar, social ills would be a thing of the past, and money would have "ceased to be the end toward which all people moved." Oh well. This is just one of the tidbits WBBM Newsradio editor Jim Benes delivers in his new book, Chicago Christmas: One Hundred Years of Memories. Benes, host and producer of the radio series Christmas Past, will discuss his research tonight at 6:30 at Eli's Cheesecakes, 6701 W. Forest Preserve in Chicago (773-736-3417). On Wednesday at 7 he'll sign copies at Borders Books & Music, 2718 N. Clark, Chicago (773-935-3090), and on Thursday at 7:30 he'll hit the Borders in Oakbrook at the corner of Route 83 and 16th (630-574-0800). All events are free.


The cold, the dark, and all those triggers for nostalgic memories are a nasty combination this time of year. The Lilac Tree, an organization that provides divorcing women with support groups, information sessions, and referrals to lawyers, mediators, and other professionals, is sponsoring a discussion tonight titled How Do I Get Through the Holiday Season? Led by social worker Ila Chaiken, the program will cover "coping with the stress and loneliness of the season." It runs from 6:45 to 8:45 at the Evanston YWCA, 1215 Church in Evanston. There's a $25 fee; call 847-328-0313 to register.


French filmmaker Judith Cahen wrote, directed, and starred in the 1999 film The Sexual Revolution Did Not Take Place, in which she plays a 29-year-old woman who works at a community radio station and is worried about where she's headed. She tries to slow down her life, using a strange machine to monitor her progress. Cahen will discuss her philosophical film after screenings tonight and tomorrow night at 7 at Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton in Chicago. The event is part of the fourth annual Festival of New French Cinema, which started last Friday and runs through tomorrow. Tickets are $7. Call 773-281-4114 for more.


Since 1971 the cageless, no-kill Tree House Animal Foundation has found homes for more than 10,200 sick, injured, and abused cats. They'll all be remembered at tonight's Lights of Love ceremony when thousands of Christmas tree lights will be illuminated, each bulb representing "the light that an animal companion brings to our lives." There will also be music, food, a silent auction, a holiday raffle, and a presentation by WGN radio's Pet Central host Steve Dale. It's from 5 to 9 (the lighting ceremony is at 7) at the Tree House Animal Foundation, 1212 W. Carmen, Chicago. Participants are asked to donate $10 to honor their pet with a light. Call 773-784-5488, ext. 230, for more.

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