Santa returns for 21st annual Reindeer Festival

December 8, 2009

By David Hayes

Santa Claus feeds apple slices to Olive at the barn attached to Santa’s House during Cougar Mountain Zoo’s Reindeer Festival. The lyrics to ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ include ‘All of (Olive) the other reindeer,’ who used to laugh and call Rudolph names Photos By Greg Farrar

Santa Claus feeds apple slices to Olive at the barn attached to Santa’s House during Cougar Mountain Zoo’s Reindeer Festival. The lyrics to ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ include ‘All of (Olive) the other reindeer,’ who used to laugh and call Rudolph names Photos By Greg Farrar

Technically, Cougar Mountain Zoo is closed for the winter season. However, when you have a guest whose reputation is built around the holiday season, allowances are made.

Thus, Robyn Barfoot, zoo manager and head elf, is proud to provide the facility of choice for Santa Claus to host his 21st annual Reindeer Festival. As evidenced by the attendance figures, it’s one of the zoo’s best-attended attractions of the year.

“It’s extremely popular. We get 10,000 visitors in the month of December,” Barfoot said. “That’s quite a lot for our zoo. And we have quite a few families who’ve made it a holiday tradition, including one from Wenatchee.”

With so much going on during the festival, it’s easy to see how it attracts visitors from around the region and beyond.

Starting with the big cheese himself, Santa hosts guests to his house daily from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. (with a mid-day break to visit his reindeer).

Speaking of the reindeer, everyone is invited to purchase treats for Santa’s nine reindeer. Unfortunately, it has to be from behind the pen fences.

“We ask you throw the treats over to the reindeer to make them run for it, to keep fit,” Barfoot said. “After all, they have to stay in shape, cause they’ll be flying soon.”

Next, kids of all ages are free to pen a letter to Santa and either drop it off in his official mail box or walk it by hand and deliver it to the jolly old elf at his house atop the festival hill.

Once families have seen the sights, Barfoot invites them to stop in for story reading time, performed by one of Santa’s many festive elves. And as a keepsake, feel free to take a seat for a photo opportunity in the sleigh Santa uses to journey around the world on Christmas Eve.

Barfoot, as head elf, said she has found herself needing to reveal elf secrets to the more curious youngsters.

“Yes, we’ve had the occasional question of how Santa delivers all those presents in one night,” she said. “We tell them that’s just the magic of Santa.”

Also, with all nine of Santa’s reindeer in attendance, including Rudolph, Barfoot said some have the temerity to question why his nose isn’t red.

“Obviously, Rudolph is into conservation, saving energy,” she explained. “He only turns it on when he needs it. Just like we recommend to kids to do with lights in their own home.”

With 21 festivals under Santa’s belt at Cougar Mountain Zoo, Barfoot said zoo workers try to add an occasional new feature to keep the proceedings fresh. This year, staff members will present trees and presents to open for the zoo’s two newest Bengal tiger cubs at 1 p.m. Dec. 23.

And, of course, visitors are invited to explore the rest of the zoo grounds to view the other animals hardy enough to stick around for the Issaquah winters. Barfoot reminds everyone that if you bring in a new, unwrapped present to the festival to be donated to the Toys for Tots program, you’ll receive one free child’s admission to the zoo for your next visit.

On the Web

Learn more about Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 21st annual Reindeer Festival and other attractions at www.cougarmountainzoo.org or e-mail the head elf at cougarmzoo@aol.com.

David Hayes: dhayes@isspress.com, 392-6434, ext. 237. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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