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How ZooLights Is Doing Social Distancing

Lincoln Park Zoo is plugging in the psychedelic light displays again this holiday season, pandemic and all. Here’s how it’s restructuring the annual favorite.

Illustration by Jake Giddens
Illustration: Jake Giddens

Oh God, the Crowds

When you hear “ZooLights,” you might visualize Lolla-sized hordes attempting to capture Instagram-worthy Boomerangs of candy cane lights. If that sounds terrifying in COVID times, worry not! ZooLights will operate at maximum 25 percent capacity, per state guidelines. Because of that, this year it runs 41 nights between November 21 to January 3, instead of the usual 28.

Tickets? (Yep, Tickets)

Given, you know, everything this year, the zoo is charging admission to the traditionally free and unticketed event. The timed tickets are $5 per person, including infants — which, OK. But zoo members get in free on opening night and December 1, and so can the general public on November 24 and December 9, 17, 21, and 29. Tickets for those five dates are still required, though (available at lpzoo.org starting at 4 p.m. the Sunday prior).

Time slots run every half hour from 4 to 9 p.m. While there’s no limit to how long you can stay, the event’s organizers say visits usually last about 90 minutes. So if you’re crowd-phobic, nab an earlier slot to minimize overlap.

The COVID Checklist

Masks: required. Social distancing guidelines: maintained. Merry memories filled with whimsy, hot cocoa, and perhaps a dash of festive romance: to be made.

Grown-up Fun

Holidaze, the open-container-friendly version of ZooLights (BoozeLights?), is always a hot ticket. And with the limited capacity, it’s already sold out. Same goes for the IRL Charlie Brown Christmas jazz concert at Café Brauer — but in predictable 2020 fashion, that show is being streamed online. Virtual admission is $15. Hey, at least at home you can get up and dance like one of the Peanuts characters as much as you damn well please.

Photos (From Afar) With Santa

If you’d like a souvenir that adequately captures this deeply bizarre moment in history, might we suggest a socially distanced picture with Santa? This year, he will remain in a “quaint booth” at the Lionel Train Adventure (a locomotive ride for the under-10 set), safely cloistered 10 feet from the public. Instead of sitting on a stranger’s lap and having him whisper in their ear (can you imagine?), kids can shout their Christmas wishes at St. Nick from three yards away. And, yes, he’ll be wearing a mask; per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with bellies that shake like bowls full of jelly are at greater risk from the virus.

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