Lights and Lions - 405 Magazine

Lights and Lions

The OKC Zoo presents two stunning sights this winter season.

Photo provided by Oklahoma City Zoo

The OKC Zoo presents two stunning sights this winter season. 

Holiday lighting is a cherished tradition for many that signifies the beginning of winter festivities, rounds out the end of the year and welcomes us into the next. Even for those who prefer the simplicity of a Charlie Brown Christmas to a Griswold-esque display extravaganza, there is no denying that we are drawn to the twinkling of lighted displays during the holidays.

According to the Library of Congress, modern light displays can be traced back to 1882, when Thomas Edison’s partner Edward Johnson draped a tree with 80 colored electric lights and displayed it in his front parlor to mark the beginning of winter festivities. Passersby were dazzled and enthralled, but the concept wasn’t widely accepted. Holiday decorations were traditionally lit with candles, and electric lights were much more expensive: a small strand of 16 flame-shaped lights cost about $12 — equivalent to $350 today.

However, in 1894, President Grover Cleveland decorated the first White House tree with electric lights. By 1914, the cost of a 16-foot strand of lights was $1.75, and by 1930, multicolored lights were found everywhere. 

Oklahoma continues the tradition with a selection of stunning holiday displays in every corner of the state — and one in particular makes a return to OKC this year. The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens is celebrating the season by hosting its Safari Lights spectacular for the second time in the past 30 years. This is one event unlike any other: Each display is a uniquely larger-than-life illuminated sculpture highlighting wildlife from around the world, prehistoric animals and seasonal favorites. Guests will experience a decked-out, glowing showcase, with an opportunity to view the zoo lights by drive-thru or walk-through.

Several new and returning activities will also take place at the zoo this season. On Saturdays and Sundays Dec. 2-17,, guests can purchase the option to dine with Santa. Private spaces are also available for families or group get-togethers. On Nov. 28, the zoo hosted a sensory-friendly night featuring smaller groups, limited flashing lights and quieter music for guests with sensory sensitivities.

The lights are not the only exciting thing happening this season at the OKC Zoo. On Sept. 26, the facility welcomed the birth of four African lion cubs. These births are the first in over 15 years at the zoo, and they are crucial to the survival of the African lion population. Illegal hunting, loss of habitat, dwindling food sources and conflict with humans are the main contributing factors that put these animals at risk. An estimated 40,000 African lions remain in the wild, and while that number may seem significant, it’s small enough to classify these majestic cats as vulnerable. 

This holiday season, guests can view the lion cubs with the purchase of general admission, which starts at $9, while children under 2 are free. Discounted rates and special packages are also available. Safari Lights runs from 5:30 to 11 p.m. each day through Jan. 1. General walk-through admission is $15, or guests can purchase drive-thru admission for $65, which includes four walk-through passes.  

For more information on dates, pricing and package options, visit the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens website at

Photo provided