Zoo’s holiday festival features live reindeer

November 25, 2008

By Rebecca Steele

Santa stands on the porch of his home-away-from-North Pole home at Cougar Mountain Zoo, overlooking the reindeer yard. By Greg Farrar Santa stands on the porch of his home-away-from-North Pole home at Cougar Mountain Zoo, overlooking the reindeer yard. By Greg Farrar

Santa’s reindeer look forward to December all year long, and not just Christmas night. The reindeer have been logging extra flying sessions to make sure they are ready for the big night. For the first three weeks in December, they’ll be holding court at the Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 20th annual Reindeer Festival.

“The reindeer do enjoy this time of year, since they get apples every day and they love apples,” said Robyn Barfoot, general curator at the zoo. During the festival, children can visit Santa, write him a letter, listen to an elf read their favorite story, have their face painted and visit the zoo animals, all while enjoying festive music and decorations. Local artist Dennis Brown will sculpt Santas on site. His work has been featured at the White House and at Bill Gates’ mansion in Medina.

Funnel cake, elephant ears and fresh-popped kettle corn will be available, and apples can be purchased at the concession stand to feed the reindeer. Also new this year, the zoo is offering a free ticket for children to use in 2009 with an admission to this year’s Reindeer Festival, Barfoot said.

“The festival is very popular — over the last three years, about 10,000 people have come to the festival each year,” she said, adding that she believes the festival is unique among Christmas events, because children get to visit not only Santa, but also his reindeer, including Rudolph.

“He has really big antlers and you can’t miss him,” Barfoot said.

Visitors will have opportunities to feed animals at the zoo and there are treats available for humans, too, including hot drinks.

“We have hot chocolate, coffee and hot cider to keep everyone warm and toasty while they’re walking around,” Barfoot said.

Elise Stokes and her family of six, from Bellevue, are members of the Cougar Mountain Zoo. They joined after their first visit to the festival three years ago. 

“Going to the reindeer festival has become a family tradition — my children love the festival and the zoo,”

 Stokes said. “As you walk in you can hear Christmas music playing — we love the feel of the whole environment.”

“The main thing I get excited about is getting really close to the reindeers,” said Audrey, her 11-year-old daughter. “I also love the festive decorations — and just everything about the festival makes me feel happy.”

A number of people and organizations support the event. All proceeds are used by the zoo to help care for the animals’ needs. 

Comcast has sponsored the festival for the past three years. Comcast employee Walter Neary said the company sponsors the festival because it is a family oriented event and a great local organization.

“The Reindeer Festival is a lot of fun — seeing the children’s eyes light up you can tell how much they enjoy it,” he said. “Children get a special joy from interacting with animals.” 

Another sponsor of the festival and zoo are Tom and Judi Rodgers, from Bellevue.

“We really like the zoo and we want it to be successful,” Tom Rodgers said.

The couple has an annual pass to the zoo, because they visit regularly.

“We love the animals and we have gotten to know the people who work there very well,” he said.

They said they enjoy seeing Santa talk to all the little children during the festival.

“We encourage everyone to come along,” he said.

Rebecca Steele is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Reporter Jim Feehan contributed to this story. Reach him at 392-6434, ext. 239, or newcas@isspress.com.

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