IF YOU GO
• What: Holiday Lights.
• When: 5:30-8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, Dec. 14-15 and 21-22.
• Where: Chattanooga Zoo, 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave.
• Admission: $8.95 adults, $5.95 ages 3-12.
• Phone: 697-1322.
• Website: www.chattzoo.org.
They don't have the opposable thumbs necessary to hang tinsel or access to ovens to bake cookies for Santa, but even animals can get in the spirit of the holiday season.
The next two Fridays and Saturdays, Dec. 14-15 and 21-22, Chattanooga Zoo is hosting its seasonal Holiday Lights celebration. During the event, the Warner Park institution will be transformed into a bedazzling wonderland draped in "tens of thousands of lights," according to zoo Executive Director Darde Long.
Preparations for the event have been ongoing for about a month, and the resulting display should make the zoo unrecognizable to even its most frequent guests, she said.
Staff members have "really outdone themselves," Long said, as she tried to work out "an extension-cord issue" during preparations last Friday. "I don't think I've ever seen this many lights in the zoo. I was stunned. It was just spectacular. I think everyone is in for a real treat."
Upon entering the park, guests will see a landscape dotted with Christmas trees and moving light displays. In a tent near the entrance off Holtzclaw Avenue, younger patrons will be able to enjoy inflatables, hot chocolate and crafts. In the zoo's education center, there will be more crafting activities, and Santa will be on hand for photo opportunities.
All the zoo's normal exhibits will be open, and since it takes place after normal operating hours, Long said, Holiday Lights offers a chance to get a new perspective on animals such as the bobcat and snow leopards, which are more languid during the day but come alive after the sun sets.
Preparing for Holiday Lights has been an additional duty on the staff's already full plates, but the spectacle is worth the effort, she said.
"It doesn't even look like the same place," Long said. "It's really a lot of fun and very affordable."
Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.