Power is on at ZooLights in Lincoln Park and Brookfield Zoo's Holiday Magic

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Crowds of people turn out for the ZooLights festival at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune / November 29, 2012)

Brookfield, judging by the pictures our photographer took that same night, also has gone up to the edge of berserk in decorating its grounds with bulbage, claiming "just over a million bulbs," says Ken Grzeslo, the zoo's on-site marketing manager, a number that also keeps on growing. 

Brookfield features caroling to the animals, and it adds a laser light show that posits the notion that the animals are the ones doing all the decorating. 

The advent of resource-friendly LED bulbs has helped fuel the growth and keep costs down. "Number one, the event's sponsored by Com Ed, so that helps," Grzeslo says. (Com Ed also sponsors ZooLights, along with Charter One.) About 84 percent of the bulbs are LED now. 

Workers start setting up in July for what began, in 1982, as a modest display in the Children's Zoo and has grown into "the largest event we do," Grzeslo says. 

Brookfield had 38,500 people over the weekend, a Holiday Magic record, said a spokeswoman. If you want to understand how important such events have become to the bottom line, that's almost eight times what is considered respectable off-season attendance. A busy weekend last February drew about 5,000. 

"We used to think people came because of the animals," Grzeslo says. "Now that the event has grown so much and there's more lights, we think more people are coming because of the lights."

Or, in some cases, because they've found a way to make peace with the lights.


5-9 p.m. on select days through Jan. 6
Where: Lincoln Park Zoo, 2200 N. Cannon Drive
Tickets: Free; 312-742-2000 or lpzoo.org

Holiday Magic
4-9 p.m. on select days through Dec. 31
Where: Brookfield Zoo, 8400 31st St., Brookfield
Tickets: (Regular admission charges) $15 adults, $10.50 children; 708-688-8000 or czs.org

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