It's Black Friday. Honestly, couldn't we have picked a more cheerful term for the kickoff to holiday shopping season? Black Friday sounds like the day aliens took over our planet. On second thought, maybe it's apropos, considering the scene at the malls today.

But I digress. What I'd really like to ponder is the generosity of two East Bay men and a church group from St. Paul's Episcopal in Walnut Creek. Together, they've given us a holiday gift. All we have to do is hop on a BART train to see it.

Eric Moe, Glenn Leveque and their friends have built a magical snow village at the base of the holiday tree in the Hyatt Regency Embarcadero.

"It was a lot of work, " Leveque says. "Overwhelming at times, but when I see the little kids' faces light up and the reaction of the dads, it's a lot of joy and happiness and worth it."

Leveque's 200-piece snow village circles the 45-foot tree, along with a train built from scratch by Moe. Even more amazing is the fact that it all sits on top of a fountain in the world's largest atrium hotel lobby where "snow" falls three times daily.

"When I heard that they needed someone to do it -- I had to help," Moe says. He's seen the magic that trains can create, and he wanted to bring this joy to a great public space like the Hyatt, where they had an iconic Department 56 snow village for many years until collector Len Connacher passed away.

So there you have it. The kickoff to Christmas doesn't have to be "black." It can be as white as a snowflake and as colorful as the lights on a Christmas tree. And the spirit of giving is the reason for the season. Joy to the world!

Joyful noise: Speaking of the holidays, a Meetup group is gathering at 7 p.m. Friday at the Lake Merritt gazebo to sing Christmas carols. It's a rather unconventional offering for songsters who want to really belt out the holiday tunes. If you'd like to join the chorus, or just listen in, you'll find more information at www.meetup.com/lake-merritt-manic-christmas-caroling.

Songwriter series: Montclair musician Caren Armstrong is hosting her Celebrating Songwriters event Wednesday at Freight & Salvage. This is her 15th year of featuring singer/songwriters who play in the round in a Nashville-style setting. It's great fun, and you'll be impressed at the wide range of talent she brings in from around the Bay Area and beyond. See http://www.celebratingsongwriters.com.

Email bag: Hills realtor Laurel Strand wants folks to know that the episode of "House Hunters" featuring three Montclair homes has been postponed. She'll let us know when it's set to air.

Got news? You can reach Ginny Prior by phone at 510-723-2525, by email at ginnyprior@hotmail.com or on the web at www.ginnyprior.com.