The countdown is on for the swearing-in of President-elect Barack Obama. Millions of residents across the nation are planning to descend on the capital Jan. 20, and here's what they and those who plan to watch from home need to know:

When does this all start?

Activities surrounding the inauguration will stretch over four days and will start with a welcome event for the public and end with a prayer service, officials with the Presidential Inaugural Committee said Wednesday.

Here is the basic schedule:

Monday, Jan. 19: To honor the life of Martin Luther King Jr., the president-elect and vice president-elect and their families will participate in community service projects in the Washington, D.C., region.

Tuesday, Jan. 20: Inauguration Day events start with a private breakfast. Then there is the swearing-in ceremony, a luncheon, a parade and a number of official balls.

Wednesday, Jan. 21: The president and vice president will attend a prayer service.

Where are events being held?

You can print a map of the Capitol ground here.

Swearing-in ceremony

What's the deal with tickets?

There are 240,000 tickets available for the ceremony, which takes place on the steps of the Capitol. These tickets are free and distributed through members of Congress. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s office received more than 5,000 requests for the 190 tickets it expected to get, and a spokesman for Rep. Bobby Rush said his office cut off its request list after 3,500 people signed up.

Tickets were released to members of Congress beginning January 12. Each member's office will then distribute tickets to their constituents.

Ticketed guests must enter the Capitol grounds through the entry point designated for their particular section. Security screening gates will open at 8 a.m. Washington time. Guests not through the screening process by 11:30 a.m. may not be allowed to enter.

What if I don't have a ticket?

There is standing room on the National Mall, and JumboTrons will be placed around the mall to accommodate the crowds.

What happens at the ceremony?

The ceremony begins about 9 a.m. Central time (10 a.m. local time) with a rotation of musicians playing live. The order of the program will be as follows (check here for times and details as they are released):

Musical selections, the United States Marine Band
Musical selections, the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus
Call to order and welcoming remarks, the Honorable Dianne Feinstein (which explains the aforementioned San Francisco choirs)
Invocation: Dr. Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, Calif.
Musical selection, Aretha Franklin
Oath of office administered to Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. by associate justice of the Supreme Court, the Honorable John Paul Stevens
Musical selection, John Williams, composer/arranger Itzhak Perlman, violin; Yo-Yo Ma, cello; Gabriela Montero, piano; Anthony McGill, clarinet
Oath of office administered to President-elect Barack Hussein Obama by the chief justice of the United States, the Honorable John G. Roberts Jr.
Inaugural address: the president of the United States, the Honorable Barack Hussein Obama
Poem: Elizabeth Alexander
Benediction: The Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Lowery
The national anthem, the United States Navy Band "Sea Chanters."

The parade

Do I need a ticket to go to the parade?
There were 5,000 tickets made available to the public to sit in the bleachers and reserved areas to watch the parade. The tickets were sold for $25 each and sold out hours after they were made available. The parade goes down Pennsylvania Avenue and for the first time, more standing space is available to the public. There is no official start time for the parade; it starts once the private ceremony for the departing president ends.

Can I go to both the ceremony and the parade?

It's not likely, because of the huge crowds, Florman said. All the open spots will probably be filled long before the parade starts.

What about security?

All attendees will go thorough security screening before entering the parade route, reviewing stand and the balls. The following items will be prohibited: firearms, ammunition, explosives, weapons of any kind, aerosols, supports for signs and placards, packages, coolers, thermal or glass containers, backpacks, bags exceeding size restrictions (8"x6"x4"), laser pointers, animals other than helper/guide dogs, structures, bicycles and any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard. Surrendered items will not be returned.

The balls

Tell me about the balls.

Dozens of balls take place Jan. 18-20, some official and some unofficial. Obama has plans to attend all 10 officials balls that are given in his honor. All of those affairs are private and guests must have invitations to attend. To make the celebratory galas more accessible to the public, there is a Neighborhood Ball, for invited residents of the District of Columbia and a Youth Inaugural Ball for younger people. He's also scheduled to attend balls for enlisted soldiers and their families, five regional balls and the Homes States Ball where guests from Illinois and Hawaii will gather.

What about the unofficial balls?

These are private affairs organized by various groups, and there are dozens of them. Members of the public are welcome but have to purchase tickets, which range from $75 to $2,500. Some will include dinner and offer live music, but they are typically more like cocktail parties.

If I go to a ball, will I meet President Obama?

It's not likely, Florman said. Even at the official balls, the president doesn't socialize with the crowd but rather makes a quick appearance and departs. But Obama could always depart from the routine, Florman said.

Other details

What's the proper attire?

The swearing-in ceremony and parade are outside, and it's typically pretty cold in the District in January. Visitors should wear warm clothes in layers. The balls are formal affairs, kind of like a prom for adults, but even at those events, there are long lines for admission, drinks and food - and typically no seating in the ballrooms.

What's the theme?

The official theme for the inauguration is "Renewing America's Promise." "At this moment of great challenge and great change, renewing the promise of America begins with renewing the idea that in America, we rise or fall as one nation and one people," Obama said in a statement.

Who'll be performing at the balls?

Obama Home States Ball
Jack Johnson
Don Cagen Orchestra
Biden Home States Ball
Maroon 5
James Gerard Orchestra
Mid-Atlantic Ball
The Dead
DJ Cassidy
Midwestern Ball
Sheryl Crow
Fabulous Motown Revue
Western Ball
Marc Anthony
Party on the Moon
Eastern Ball
James Taylor
Liquid Pleasure
Southern Ball
The Derek Trucks Band
Commander-in-chief's Ball
Jon Bon Jovi
Jordin Sparks
Right On
Neighborhood Ball
Mary J. Blige
Mariah Carey
Faith Hill
Alicia Keys
Stevie Wonder
SOURCE: Presidential Inaugural Committee

--- Lolly Bowean, Tribune reporter, contributed to this report.