Gift suggestion for Pac-Man and E.T.- weary folks: treat the family to a performance of the Washington Ballet's "Nutcracker". This charming entertainment, which runs for yet another week, offers a host of alluring characters, among them a horde of large, shaggy mice, mechanical dolls, a Christmas tree that grows and shrinks, a candy-cane boy who jumps through hoops, a shepherd and shepherdesses wielding enormous crooks, an exotic quartet straight out of the Arabian Nights, and a tiny boy curled, leech-like, around his baker father's leg.

These characters are only some of the many performers who whirl and cavort through the warm and imaginative production. There are children galore, older Washington School of Ballet students dancing the well-known "Snowflake" and "Waltz of the Flowers" variations, and members of the professional company looking their classical best in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Cavalier, Snow Queen and Snow Prince. Richard Ferrer's set is a gingerbready delight, and the orchestra, conducted by Thomas Ludwig, has one humming along right from the start. THE WASHINGTON BALLET'S "NUTCRACKER" Through December 31 (this Friday at 2 and Sunday at 1 and 5). Lisner Auditorium, 21st and H Streets NW. Tickets $6 to $12. 362-4644.