At this dark time of year people don't usually think of braving the cold to go to the zoo -- especially at night. During the month of December zoos all over North America change this up by creating month-long events called Zoo Lights or Wild Lights. They decorate their grounds with millions of twinkle lights and displays of animals made of lights right alongside the live animals that live there.

A neon "wreath" with animals
A neon "wreath" with animals at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas

Image via Gladys Porter Zoo

Whether it is called Zoo Lights or Wild Lights it is an amazingly cool (and cold) event to attend. Several years ago I went to see the lights at the Denver Zoo along with my mother and a family friend. It was an absolutely magical experience that really made the holidays for us that year.

Denver Zoo Lights Sign
Denver Zoo Lights Sign

Image via Go Fatherhood

Let's face it, with all of those lights and animals creating a rarefied atmosphere on a frosty evening it seemed to be something somewhat Disney-esque. We were kids again.

Moose Zoo Lights
Moose Zoo Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via Pinterest

The animal exhibits were all open so we also got to slip inside the different buildings to warm up and see the regular animals. Food concessions were selling such Christmas-y fare as hot cocoa and roasted chestnuts. We bought a bag of chestnuts and split them between the three of us. I had never had them before and enjoyed the experience, and appreciated the warmth of them in my pockets.

Zebra Lights, Denver Zoo
Zebra Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via Zap Travel

If you attend one of these events I strongly recommend dressing in layers -- lots of layers. I wasn't there long before I was wishing that I had worn my thermals since I was freezing my thighs off. It was such a weird spot to be so cold, but there you have it. Those mammal fur coats really seem like a good idea on a night like that. Lucky them!

Chinese Dragon Lights, Denver Zoo
Chinese Dragon Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via flickr

There is no way to walk this route at a fast pace. There is just too much to see to make a quick trip. While most of the lights are static, some of the displays are designed to move. There is one of two male mountain goats having an argument head to head with a brilliant crash. We found that it was good that we were a group because it took three of us pointing things out to make sure we saw everything.

Flamingo Lights, Denver Zoo
Flamingo Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via flickr

It's not just lions and tigers and bears (oh, my). Depending on your zoo you may see dolphins, whales, giraffes, penguins, alligators, peacocks, zebras, lizards, insects, fish, and . . . well, just about every possible animal you can think of. Some are made from twinkle lights and others, at some zoos, are lit from within.

Peacock Lights, Denver Zoo
Peacock Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via Pinterest

It is hard to decide which display was my favorite. I loved walking through the tunnel of lights and had to do that more than once, but when it comes to animal displays I think it was the polar bear playing with a snowflake and the rams butting heads.

Polar Bear and Snowflake Lights, Denver Zoo
Polar Bear and Snowflake Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via Pinterest

Lighting up your winter with these zoos is not only a great way to add to your holiday season it is also a great way for zoos to raise funds and support conservation outreach. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, or Festivus (for the rest of us) checking out your nearest zoo this winter will be a real treat.

Mountain Lion Lights, Denver Zoo
Mountain Lion Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via about travel

It takes a better part of a year to set up and take down all these lights. Three people start the set up in August and after the one month run the displays are not completely packed up and put away until May. The lights are all set up in a one-mile walking loop with everyone walking the same direction. Well, that last part is somewhat theoretical. We ended up walking the wrong direction, but I don't remember how or why. The zoo estimates that it takes about an hour to complete the entire loop. This year is the 26th anniversary of this event at the Denver Zoo.

Elephant Lights, Denver Zoo
Elephant Lights, Denver Zoo

Image via Front Porch

It is hard to show in still photos what it is like to actually be at the zoo with all of these lights. The still photos don't do justice to the movements of many of these displays. So check out the video below to get a better idea:

 

I've been sharing pictures and memories of the Denver Zoo since that is what I know. Check out some photos from other zoos:

Washington D.C.

Panda Zoo Lights, Washington D.C.
Panda Lights, National Zoo

Image via My Zoo Guide

Each year 100,000 visitors or more visit the Zoo Lights at the National Zoo in Washington D.C.

Elephant Lights, Washington, D.C.
Elephant Lights, National Zoo

Image via Smithsonian

Billings, Montana

T-Rex Lights, Billings, Montana
T-Rex Lights, Billings, Montana Zoo

Image via Billlings365

Not all of the animals represented in these displays are ones that you might find in a zoo. You might not even find them in this millennium. Does he look like he's dancing to you?

Portland, Oregon

Penguin Lights, Portland Oregon
Penguin Lights, Oregon Zoo

Image via Oregon Zoo

It looks like things are going swimmingly in the City of Roses. I have visited this zoo a couple of times, but never for the lights.

Africa Lights, Oregon Zoo
Africa Lights, Oregon Zoo

Image via Pleasures of the Northwest

Snake Lights, Oregon Zoo
Snake Lights, Oregon Zoo

Image via Oregon Zoo

Crocodile Lights, Oregon Zoo
Crocodile Lights, Oregon Zoo

Image via Oregon Zoo

Seattle, Washington

Tiger Lights, Seattle Zoo
Tiger Lights, Seattle Zoo

Okay family members in Seattle, you need to go check out the lights in your zoo and freeze your tails off. You'll love it! "Tiger, tiger burning bright, in the forest of the night . . . "

Saint Louis, Missouri

Swan Lights, Saint Louis, Missouri
Swan Lights, Saint Louis Zoo

Image via Saint Louis Zoo

Don't worry if you can't get to all these zoos. Many of the zoos have the same displays so you aren't likely to miss out on a thing -- especially the magic of the moment.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Giraffe Lights, Calgary Zoo
Giraffe Lights, Calgary Zoo

Image via Pinterest

Phoenix, Arizona

Dragonfly Lights, Phoenix Zoo
Dragonfly Lights, Phoenix Zoo

Image via Pinterest

Chicago, Illinois

Cheetah Lights, Lincoln Park Zoo
Cheetah Lights, Lincoln Park Zoo

Image via Travel Channel

Sources: Front Porch, Your Hub, Smithsonian

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