Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Families kick off holidays with zoo tree-lighting

  • CTY-LIGHTS19Holz

    Caleb and Jessica Holz, Perrysburg, dance with their daughters Addison, 1, and Mackenzie, 5, in front of the Dancing Trees before watching an 85-foot Norway spruce.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • CTY-LIGHTS19Aaron

    Aaron Siebeneck and Toni Steffan, Ottawa, take a photo as an 85-foot Norway spruce decorated with more than 35,000 energy-saving LED bulbs is lit during the Lights Before Christmas.

    The Blade/Andy Morrison
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  • n7lights

    Raelynn Mitchell, 3, of Woodville, Ohio, poses for her aunt Ashley Hammer of Elmore, Ohio, as an 85-foot Norway spruce with more than 35,000 energy-saving LED bulbs is lit during the Lights Before Christmas presented by KeyBank ceremony at the Toledo Zoo.

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    Grace DeYoung, Genoa, takes a spin on the Bumper Cars on Ice before she and her mother Shannon DeYoung watch the tree lighting kicking off the annual Lights Before Christmas display at the Toledo Zoo.

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Sisters Julie Bowers and Laura Vondeylen have walked through the Toledo Zoo and Aquarium’s Lights Before Christmas display with their mother, Donna Schreiber, every year for the past three decades, but this is the first year the three have made it to the zoo for the tree-lighting ceremony that kicks off the holiday season.

“We got the best spot,” Ms. Bowers said Friday night, gesturing at the 85-foot-tall Norway spruce towering just a few yards away.

Ms. Bowers, 59, drove down from Blissfield, Mich., to be with Ms. Vondeylen, 53, and Ms. Schreiber, 83, both of Toledo. 

It’s important to all three of them that they keep the holiday tradition alive year after year.

“It’s a fun family thing to do,” Ms. Bowers said. “It brings you closer together.”

PHOTO GALLERY: Lights before Christmas

Cousins Kristine Henneman and Jenny Knorr, both of Reno Beach, are starting their own family tradition this year. 

They brought their children, Andrew Knorr, 7, Kyle Hennemann, 7, and Brian Henneman II, 9, to the tree-lighting to get the boys in the holiday spirit.

Brian Henneman II said he is ready for Christmas, in part because his mother put up their Christmas tree at home after she watched a holiday movie and could no longer wait.

All three boys wore necklaces with illuminated bulbs in primary colors and squirmed in the grass as they waited for the zoo’s biggest tree to be lit. Mrs. Knorr held the children’s sweatshirts — it was a balmy 68 degrees — and challenged the boys to get the crowd gathered around them to sing “Jingle Bells” to pass the time.

A few neighbors joined in the fun, earning the boys an ice cream treat on the way home.

Before long the singing turned into a boisterous countdown — “Five! Four! Three! Two! One!” — and all 35,000 LED light bulbs lit up with a flash.

“It’s not cool,” Andrew Knorr said, gazing up at the twinkling lights. “It’s amazing!”

The ceremony marked the beginning of a six-week-long lights display at the zoo. It features more than one million lights and more than 200 illuminated animal images. Other attractions include the ice slide, Douglas the Talking Fir Tree, ice carvings, bumper cars on ice and Santa Claus.

Shelli Licata and her children Tyler, 17, and Jordan, 13, waited for the crowd to thin out on Friday so they could snap a family photo in front of the massive Christmas tree. The family tours the dazzling display every year, and they plan to return on another evening when father and husband, Troy Licata, can make it, too.

“I liked it,” Tyler Licata said of the ceremony. “It was very suspenseful.”

Ms. Bowers said it was nice to be able to leave the winter coat and blankets at home this year, but there’s something about holiday lights when it’s snowing that can’t be beat. She too plans to make another trip to the zoo before Christmas, just to see the lights glitter through the snowflakes.

Lights Before Christmas is open through Dec. 31 and will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Hours are 3-8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 3-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Admission is $14 for children ages 2-11 and adults 60 and older, and $17 for ages 12-59. Children 2 and younger receive free admission. Zoo members with a valid membership card also receive unlimited Lights Before Christmas visits Monday through Thursday, plus one free weekend visit.

Contact Sarah Elms at: or 419-724-6103 or on Twitter .

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