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  • Writer's pictureJoey Amato

Christmas at the Zoo Returns

A light sprinkling of snow and the glow of twinkling lights will fill the sky, creating a magical nighttime experience that has become one of Central Indiana’s most beloved holiday traditions.

Christmas at the Zoo presented by CareSource kicks off Nov. 18 and continues daily through Dec. 30, closed only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Day. The Zoo opens at 2pm and Christmas at the Zoo activities go from 5-9pm, extended until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Nominated for USA Today’s 10 Best Zoo Lights for the eighth straight year, the Indianapolis Zoo was the first zoo in the nation to start a holiday lights event back in 1967. Now in its 55 th year, more than 100,000 guests each year come to experience the magic and wonder of the Zoo during the holiday season. Guests can vote here until November 30th to help Christmas at the Zoo bring home the honor of the nation’s Best Zoo Lights to Central Indiana! The Zoo’s holiday LED lights are presented by Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at Ascension St. Vincent.

With the opening of the Zoo’s new entry and reopening of the White River Gardens, guests will get to enjoy more sights and lights during their magical visit. New this year, the Zoo introduces two new characters that will be spreading holiday cheer and fun to guests. The Ice Princess is the Zoo’s holiday royalty that embodies the spirit of winter. Jack Frost, the frosty prankster from the frozen north, likes to play jokes and pranks with our younger guests.

Santa’s Village under the Bicentennial Pavilion is like stepping inside a glittering snow globe. Guests can visit Santa’s Study warmed by the Peterman Brothers to meet Kris Kringle or stop by Mrs. Claus’ Kitchen to see her decorate cookies. Santa’s sleigh and his trusty reindeer can be found in Santa’s Barn. Laugh all the way through the twists and turns of the Snowflakery Mirror Maze, where holiday surprises are hidden behind every corner. Sit back with a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the nightly storytelling of Sprinkles and Holly at Café on the Commons. Join in on the daily countdown to “lights on” for the 50 foot Merry and Bright tree located in front of the Simon Skjodt International Orangutan Center.

Families can beat the wintertime blues and escape to the tropics for a visit with Vacation Santa in Flights of Fancy. With the help of his flamingo flock and some holiday magic, the Jolly Old Elf will seem to be in two places at once to greet even more children this year.

Many of the Zoo’s robust animals will also be out enjoying the cooler weather, including Arctic foxes, tigers, brown bears, red pandas, sea lions and seals. Special chats throughout the day will give guests opportunities to learn more about their favorite animals. Plus, the Zoo’s many indoor exhibits will offer a perfect place for visitors to go when cheeks get rosy. When the sun goes down, the Zoo will transform into a winter wonderland filled with colorful lights and displays. From Santa’s Favorite Tree presented by Twinkly located in Plains to fantasy forests with towering trees beaming with light in Forests. Near the front of the Zoo, the stunning Polar Pathway has become the most photo-worthy spot after dark and leads visitors down a glittering path into the rest of the Zoo.

While community carolers fill the night with the familiar sounds of holiday songs, visitors can chase the chill away with a cup of hot cocoa or even a seasonal cocktail presented by Hotel Tango. As they stroll through the Zoo, guests can warm up by the campfires and look for hidden mistletoe for a chance to win a spectacular holiday gift — an Animal Art Adventure.

Visitors can bring old holiday lights to the Zoo’s Entry Plaza for recycling sponsored by Technology Recyclers. Christmas at the Zoo is free for Zoo members and included with regular admission. Visit the Zoo’s website for advance tickets and more information.

Photo by Cody Mattox

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