Light & sweet: Two cities light up for the holidays

CR Rae
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Brookfield Zoo outside of Chicago is hosting its annual Holiday Magic event for the 39th year.

From animals and gnomes to lights and candy, here are two great holiday things to do this year.

Illinois

The Brookfield Zoo right outside of Chicago is up for the challenge this year to make the holidays bright. This famous zoo is hosting its annual Holiday Magic event for the 39th year. The light show features a 600-foot-long tunnel with thousands of colored lights all synchronized to music.

Santa will not be making an appearance this year as he needs to stay healthy to make his Christmas Eve rounds, but families can take photos next to his life-size cutout. Another great photo op is at the giant 20-foot-lighted orb. Other selfie opportunities are located around the zoo — look for the frames. Bring your Santa letters to the zoo and mail them in the giant red box on the south mall.

Other special features include a 41-foot-tall holiday tree and larger-than-life LED sculptures of a bison, a bear and a giraffe. The 660 LED-lit trees decorated with ornaments will certainly put visitors in the spirit.

While visiting the zoo and taking in the lights, play the Game of Gnomes. It is a family-friendly scavenger hunt to find 24 gnomes hiding throughout the park. Check out czs.org/gameofgnomes for maps and more information.

Seasonal treats, beverages and special holiday gifts will be available at outside stands.

Please note that Brookfield Zoo is following Phase 4 guidelines from the state of Illinois, which says no buildings may be open and guest capacity must be limited. Visit the zoo’s website to reserve a time to visit: czs.org. The zoo’s COVID-19 protocols are also available at czs.org/KnowBeforeYouGo.

Pennsylvania

A couple of states to the east is the sweetest city in the U.S.: Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Here holiday lightseekers have some phenomenal opportunities to stay safe and enjoy the sweetness from the comfort of the car. Sweet Lights at Hersheypark features 600 animated displays over two miles of fields and wooded trails, with about 2 million LED lights to put families in a festive mood.

This drive-through display depicts the 12 Days of Christmas, a Victorian Village and familiar fairy tales. The display will stay lighted through January, but hours vary. Hours and ticket information is available at hersheypark.com.

While in the sweet city, be sure to take in the 12th annual Sweetest House in Town. It is at Hershey’s Chocolate World and made of many upon many pieces of candy. It will make your mouth water as you check out the Kit-Kat shingles, Jolly Rancher windowsills and Hershey Kisses bricks.

This year’s house is 169 square feet of sweet treats. The inside is decorated, too, as Santa’s Candy Shoppe and Mrs. Claus’ Bakery. The classy couple is quite happy with their sweet house that took 111 employee volunteers nine days to complete. For every volunteer hour, $10 was donated to Children’s Miracle Network.

Santa is entrusting the fine people of Hershey to take care of his reindeer until he comes for them on Christmas Eve. You might get a glimpse of the big guy himself at Hersheypark while he is checking on his clan.

Christmas Candylane is something not to miss. With more than 5 million lights, Candylane is merry and bright. Visit the new Chocolatetown before leaving this sweet city and find some treats to take home.

All Hershey events are set up to follow COVID safety guidelines in keeping socially distanced and wearing masks (for those older than 2). Temperature screenings and increased cleaning and sanitization also are taking place.

For information on the areas and where to stay, go to hersheypa.com and visitbrookfieldil.com.

Contact CR at crraetravels@gmail.com.

Visitors can experience Hersheypark's Sweet Lights holiday display from the comfort and safety of their vehicle.