Christmas season not complete without visit to zoo’s Lights Before Christmas

Riverbanks Zoo photo

The “Lights Before Christmas” at Riverbanks Zoo is a tradition the people of West Columbia know well because of the easy access.
The entrance to the zoo’s Botanical Gardens is off of Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia and The Lights Before Christmas have been a staple of the season for the last three decades.

Specifically, the Lights Before Christmas are a million shiny green, red, yellow, blue and white lights all over the zoo. With Jingle Bells and The Peanuts Christmas songs playing in the background, along with other Christmas favorites. The zoo is illuminated at night with the glow of the Christmas spirit.

Presented by The Future Scholar 529 College Savings Program and BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina the “Lights” began in late November, from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. and run until Dec. 30.

Residents are very familiar with the “lights.”

Jolene Gillis of West Columbia said the seasonal spectacular at the zoo has become a regular event for her family.

“We used to bring our son, Bradley. He’s 11 now and he loves the lights. This year we’re going to bring our one-year-old daughter, Macy, to the Lights Before Christmas for the first time,” said Gillis. “The animal shapes, with the closeness to the live zoo animals, and the variety of displays are something that is special.The Christmas season would not be the same without seeing the lights at the zoo.”

And the zoo appreciates the effort from the Gillis family, and all the others.

Because the zoo, and the botanical gardens on the West Columbia side, do not see the same amount of traffic in the winter, as in the warmer months, the importance of “The Lights Before Christmas” is magnified.

The lights provide an atmosphere where families can connect with one another, as Gillis described. And the high volume of visitors the Lights attract helps boost the zoo’s ability to raise funding.

Riverbanks Zoo photo

“The Lights Before Christmas includes Santa’s Village, sponsored by South Carolina’s Future Scholar 529 College Savings Program. To help warm the cold December nights, there is a Jingle Bell bonfire. Many a family uses the flames to toast s’mores, as an added treat. There is hot cocoa and snow every night, too.

Lights will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. General admission is $12 for adults and $10 for children ages 2 – 12. Children under 2 are admitted free.

Guests are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance online (Zoo members will receive at least one free visit with a valid membership card and picture ID; guest passes are not be accepted).
Lights Before Christmas is open rain or shine. Parking for the event is available on the Zoo side only at 500 Wildlife Parkway in Columbia.

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