Cirque du Soleil's phenomenal success hatched a modern market for an ancient form of entertainment, and those who might once have eked out a living as humble street performers are now creating ever-more-dazzling spectacles in first-rate venues. Almost in defiance of this trend, Montreal's Les 7 Doigts de la Main eschews the larger-than-life sets, music, and characters that populate other shows. Instead, in 7 Fingers its performers inhabit an imaginary loft, in which a group of buddies show off for each other with juggling, clowning, poetry, song, and acrobatics, creating a kind of Friends-under-the-big-top act. Impressive props are verboten; instead the athletes use such everyday objects as apples, knives, mirrors, tablecloths, footwear, and even Barbie dolls in their astonishing family-friendly revue.
The group's local tour is its first in the United States, and it's particularly notable for two members: Both Gypsy Snider and Shana Carroll (daughter of Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll) are Bay Area natives who once performed with the Pickle Family Circus. Give our homegirls a hand starting at 2 p.m. Wednesday (the show runs through Jan. 3) at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, 3301 Lyon (at Bay), S.F. Admission is $16-30; call 759-8123 or visit www.palaceoffinearts.org. -- Joyce Slaton
Keep 'Em Busy Cool workshops alleviate whining
If you're in grade school, the perfect time to drive your parents insane is during your winter break. Bored? Tell Mom. Hungry? Tell Mom. Light the tree on fire? That could be Dad's department, but Mom may be more forgiving. Either way, you win, and it's not like you have anything better to do.
If you're a parent, though, the Randall Museum's got your back. Twice a day, almost every day of the SFUSD holiday, the School Break Workshops offer constructive, interesting ways to keep Junior out of your hair. Subjects include science, culture, and every craft you can shake a Popsicle stick at. A few highlights are "Family Potter's Wheel," "Potions," and "Star Science in the Star Lab," but they all sound fun. Most require young children to be accompanied by an adult, but over about age 8, many don't. Happy (quiet) holidays begin at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at the Randall Museum, 199 Museum (at Roosevelt), S.F. Admission is $3-11 per person; call 554-9600 or visit www.randallmuseum.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser
Look! Up in the Sky! Solving an ancient riddle
The Bible tells the story of a mysterious star that drew the Three Wise Men to Bethlehem. Was the gleaming object a miracle, a hallucination -- or a real astrological phenomenon? Morrison Planetarium delves into the puzzle with The Christmas Star, a 40-minute show that considers theories ranging from supernovas to comets to a rare conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. Get the lowdown starting at 2 p.m. on Wednesday (the event runs through Sunday, except Christmas Day) at 55 Concourse (at JFK) in Golden Gate Park, S.F. Tickets are $1.25-2.50 (plus regular California Academy of Sciences admission, free-$8.50); call 750-7145 or visit www.calacademy.org. -- Joyce Slaton
The winter holiday created by and for the African diaspora may concentrate on serious issues like community-building, but it's also fun for kids. Today's Kwanzaa Celebration includes Sudanese face-painting, plangi tie-dye from West Africa, seed planting to commemorate the first fruits of the harvest, and lots of other hands-on activities, plus music and food (Kwanzaa always brings yummy food). The event begins at noon at the Bay Area Discovery Museum, 557 McReynolds (at Fort Baker), Sausalito. Admission is free; call 339-3900 or visit www.baykidsmuseum.org. -- Hiya Swanhuyser