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The winter-time brilliance of Calgary's Zoo Lights

Staff writers
December 3, 2012 — There's nothing like battling frigid temperatures while you string up Christmas lights -- imagine having to set up 1.5 million of them! Kelsey McEwen takes us inside Zoo Lights.

It takes three months to set up the 1.5 million lights at the Calgary Zoo.
It takes three months to set up the 1.5 million lights at the Calgary Zoo.

It's a sure sign Christmas is right around the corner: The temperature is feeling close to -20C, there's a couple of centimetres of snow on the ground and Zoo Lights is underway at the Calgary Zoo.

From November 23 to January 5, the zoo is bathed in the glow of an astonishing 1.5 million lights, set up after three months of hard work.

"We like to say it's Calgary's favourite holiday tradition," the Calgary Zoo's marketing coordinator, Ashton Rutz, says. "Basically, when you come down here we have a ton of different light displays, there's about 200 new ones this year."

It's not just a pretty sight. Zoo Lights offers plenty of activities, for young and old.

Kids can "talk" to Santa at his secret North Pole hideaway, asking him to grant their wishes via a Skype-like link.

"And what happens is, it actually gets posted online, and kids can share it with their friends and family," Rutz says.

Other exhibits include the Water Wonderland Kids Zone, ice-carving demonstrations every Friday and Saturday night, a pair of slides popular with the kids, and a New Year's Eve event. 

"Zoo Year's Eve," features special fireworks that have low noise and low impact, to protect the Zoo's animals.

Aside from being family-friendly, the award-winning event is also great for couples.

Rutz says Zoo Lights has prompted several marriage proposals among couples taking in the lights and atmosphere.

Zoo Lights is open regardless of how cold it is.

"Last year, we actually had to shut down because winds got up to 80-kilometre gusts, so we did close down once -- but we're open!" Rutz says. "We tell people to just dress Canadian, dress warm."

Zoo Lights runs from November 23 to January 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. nightly. 

Attendees who bring a non-perishable food item receive a two-for-one admission ticket.

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