Toledo Zoo's annual 'Lights Before Christmas' officially begins

Toledo Zoo's annual 'Lights Before Christmas' officially begins

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) - The Lights Before Christmas is a tradition that continues Friday at the Toledo Zoo.

Tens of thousands of people make their way to the Zoo every year for the annual celebration.

It takes hard work from a lot of people to make the Lights a success every year.

For those who spend months making the magic happen, Friday will be a time for them to shine.

Many sights and sounds that you see every year will be back, as well as a few new features such as a 3D mapping display on Carnivore Cafe, a new home for Santa and a beer garden.

"New to Lights Before Christmas is scenes of wonder which uses the side of the Carnivore Cafe to tell a wonderful holiday story through a 3D light display," said director of communications Shayla Bell Moriarty.

"Sometimes we've got to add a new thing, new colors, just to give you something new to look for, but it still has the same feeling of tradition," said horticulturist Michelle Aldrich.

The spectacle kicks off with the lighting of the big tree that is featured at Lights Before Christmas every year.

The 85-foot Norway spruce, located near the Conservatory, is just part of the process that began back in August to transform the zoo into a winter wonderland.

"It probably takes, if the weather is good, three to four weeks to get it done. There's 700 sets, so 35,000 lights on it," said Nancy Bucher, curator of horticulture.

The tree lighting begins at 6:15 p.m.

Each and every part of the Zoo looks magical during the Lights Before Christmas, but everyone has their favorite parts.

"Probably my favorite thing to do is stand in the middle of the plaza where the dancing lights are and do a full circle, looking towards the aviary where it's clear and red and looking in all directions and seeing the lights," Bucher said.

Maybe the reason the zoo means so much to so many people is the employees embrace the event will as much passion as they have for their job.

Concession manager Samantha Mason says the employees get involved playing holiday music and decorating for the theme at their concession stands.

"Just to make it more magical," Mason said. "When they are here, its a family time, and they really enjoy their time here."

To fulfill guests' cravings during while out having fun, the Toledo Zoo will have fudge, roasted nuts, cookies and even deep friend Twinkies made by the Timberline Bakery. But the most popular seller is hot chocolate.

"We go through canters and canters full of hot chocolate per night at various locations throughout the park," Mason said.

With cold weather in the forecast, there are several places for visitors to get warm and still see some cool things. Possibly the most popular warm-up spot is the aquarium.

"When they come into the aquarium in the evenings, all the exhibit lights will be on and the fish will be swimming around," curator Jay Hemdal said. "You can see all the different fish from the sharks, black tip sharks, giant octopus, jellies all sorts of exhibits."

While most of the aquarium's exhibits will be open, the touch tank will be closed.

Santa Claus will also take dip into the aquarium's reef tank at 3:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. daily to feed the fish.

Other places to warm up are the reptile house, carnivore cafe and, ironically, the arctic encounter.

The zoo also encourages guests to warm up at the zoo's gift shops, where they can buy a wide variety of gifts from ornaments to plush animals. The zoo also encourages guests to opt into the ZooPal Animal Sponsorship Program.

Zoo Pals sponsor one of the zoo's new animals including a koala bear, one of two baby giraffes and the snow leopard cub.

"When you become a zoo pal adopter, you receive a certificate with your animal's photo and also a little plush so that you can have your own little zoo pal right at home with you and that really makes for a fun gift."

Zoo pals will also come to a special Zoo Pal event coming up in the summer.

If you can't make it for the tree lighting, you can watch it live during a two-hour special from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on WTOL.

The Zoo opens at 10 a.m., with the lights turning on at 3 p.m.

If you love Lights Before Christmas, don't forget to vote from them here for Best Zoo Lights in USA Today's 10Best Readers' Choice travel award contest.

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