Sophia and Jax will be among the zoo residents participating in Christmas Days and Christmas Nights at the Texas Zoo.

Sophia, one of two jaguars that live at the Texas Zoo, puts her scent on the box containing rings for this year’s graduating class of the University of Houston-Victoria in May of 2019. Sophia and Jax will be among the zoo residents participating in Christmas Days and Christmas Nights at the Texas Zoo. 

The Texas Zoo will transform into a holiday destination where Crossroads residents can celebrate the season throughout December with Christmas Days at the Zoo and Christmas Nights at the Zoo.

Beginning Dec. 1, Santa Claus will visit the zoo for Christmas Days at the Zoo from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday in December.

Old Rosy Cheeks also will appear on Dec. 23 and 24, just before the big birthday, to hear about the toys that top wish lists for children in the Crossroads.

New this year, Christmas Nights at the Zoo will light up the night from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 21 and 22.

The Texas Zoo has been collecting Christmas decorations from community members to transform the grounds into a merry holiday menagerie.

“The zoo will be filled with lights, inflatables, lighted metal art, Christmas trees and anything you can think of (in the way of decorations),” said Cari Wittenborn, the zoo’s animal health and welfare manager. “We have a lot of decorations already, but we’re always looking for more. Instead of throwing them away, this gives the option of up-cycling. Give them to us, and we will put them to good use.”

Parents can capture memories of their children visiting with Santa with their cameras or cellphones. Booths will provide yuletide backdrops for selfies and photos with besties. Wittenborn quipped that enthusiastic animal ambassadors might crash the photos leaving guests with take-home tokens of their interactions.

Local businesses will donate decorated Christmas trees for the Walk of Trees and guests will vote for their favorites.

Holiday craft projects will change each weekend and among the end results will be ornaments and snowflakes.

The Children’s Discovery Museum will also set up an activity station.

Wildlife Junction, the gift shop at the zoo, will offer gifts and gift bundles for Christmas during the special events and normal business hours. The store sells merchandise including books, puzzles, stuffed animals and other toys, T-shirts and baby items. Adults have options, too, with bags, magnets and home goods such as pillows, coffee mugs and coasters.

Shoppers can purchase a bundle that includes a zoo membership, a one-on-one animal encounter and a stuffed animal representing the specific animal that the child will meet. Each encounter is different depending on the animal. With the bears, the child will feed them and perhaps scratch a belly when one is near enough. They will feed the jaguar milk and spray him with blood from a bottle. And a coati, lynx and skunk will offer other unique experiences.

This year, the store also is selling one-of-a-kind Christmas-themed 5-by-7 and 8-by-10-inch works of art created by the animals who live in the zoo.

Some of the animals paint with brushes in their hands, and others move with paint-dipped feet or scales across the canvases.

“We need our animals to get in the Christmas spirit,” Wittenborn said. “They choose the colors, and they do their own things.”

Food and beverages offered during the special events will vary depending on the weather. When cold, guests can warm up at the hot chocolate and hot cider bars. If warm, they can cool down with snow cones.

In addition to the normal snacks such as hot dogs, popcorn and nachos, the concession stand will sell Christmas cookies, muffins and pretzels drizzled with chocolate.

Children can board the Rein-Deere Express and choo-choo around the zoo for the first time since Hurricane Harvey rendered the train inoperable. A John Deere tractor will tug them around for a mini tour of lights.

While the zoo hosted Christmas Days for the first time last year, Christmas Nights at the Zoo is entirely new.

The evening events will offer all the same fun with the ambiance of the animal exhibits and other zoo surroundings illuminated by holiday lights. Additionally, businesses will set up booths with activities and games for the children.

All proceeds from the December events will go to the animal residents and help fulfill the mission of the Texas Zoo.

“December is usually slow with people back in school and at work,” Wittenborn said. “Last year, we saw an increase in people coming out after we decorated to make the zoo a true Christmas destination.”

Elena Anita Watts covers arts, culture and entertainment for the Victoria Advocate. 

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