Reindeer fly to Cougar Mountain Zoo for annual festival

December 4, 2012

By Christina Corrales-Toy

Rogue, who was 5 months old during the 2011 Reindeer Festival at Cougar Mountain Zoo, checks out visitors through a barn window at Santa’s house. By Greg Farrar

If you saw a deer-shaped figure roaming the night sky in November, don’t be alarmed, said Cougar Mountain Zoo General Curator Robyn Barfoot, it was just Santa’s reindeer getting some flying practice in before their big day.

But now Santa’s reindeer are done practicing and ready to meet with local residents at the Cougar Mountain Zoo’s 24th annual Reindeer Festival.

While the zoo is technically closed during the month of December, the zoo eagerly plays host to the festival that attracts more than 10,000 visitors every year, Barfoot said.

“It provides a really great opportunity for people to do something with their families during the day and kind of get everyone in the feel of the holidays,” she said.

Visitors can meet with 10 of Santa’s reindeer at the festival, but they’ll also get an opportunity to meet the man himself. Santa will be available to chat, pose for photos and write down Christmas wishes for attendees young and old, Barfoot said.

“It’s a great time to get up close and really get a chance to converse with Santa Claus and ask him how the toy making is coming along and what kind of cookies he likes,” she said.

If you go

Issaquah Reindeer Festival

  • 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. until Dec. 23
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 26-30
  • Cougar Mountain Zoo
  • 19525 S.E. 54th St.
  • Tickets: $12.50, $11.50 for seniors, $10.50 for children 12 and younger, free for children younger than 2
  • Groups of 12 people or more receive a $1 discount.

The festival runs daily until Dec. 23, takes a break for Christmas, and then returns Dec. 26-30.

Santa will be available every day until Dec. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with a short break in between.

“We want to make sure we give Santa a little lunch break in between so that he can go check on his reindeer and say hi to Mrs. Claus and do all the wonderful things that Santa can do,” Barfoot said.

Kids are encouraged to write letters to Santa and drop them off at his personal mailbox at the festival, or even better, hand them to him in person.

Santa’s elves, all of whom eerily resemble zoo volunteers and staff members, will also provide special story times and may even share the science behind how reindeer are able to fly, Barfoot said.

Pictures with Santa are $15 for the first photo and $10 for additional shots. You can also take your own photos for $5. Visitors can also purchase snacks, including hot chocolate, cookies, cider and kettle corn.

Proceeds from the festival go directly toward supporting the reindeer and educational programs at the zoo.

“This festival is a lot of fun,” Barfoot said. “You’re just immersed in the sounds, the smell, the visual stimulation of all the decorations and the elves running around with their crazy, pointy hats and the smile on their faces. It just brings forth that happy, warm holiday feeling and I think that’s why people come back.”

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