Holiday Lights Spectacular Returns to Turtle Back Zoo

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Holiday Spectacular

Essex County will once again be turning Turtle Back Zoo into a Winter Wonderland with the Eighth Annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular beginning Friday, November 28.

More than 50 characters adorned with 100,000 lights will be on display.

The county is offering free admission from 5 to 9 p.m. each night on the following dates:

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, November 28, 29 & 30

Friday, Saturday, Sunday, December 5, 6 & 7

Daily from Friday, December 12 to January 4

The County is also encouraging visitors to bring non-perishable food items, non-perishable pet food, new unwrapped toys, and new and gently used winter coats to help our families in need.

About 50 animal and holiday-themed figures will light up the winter night in Turtle Back Zoo and the surrounding Essex County South Mountain Recreation Complex. Over 100,000 lights will illuminate figures of bears, tigers and elephants, along with holiday lights designed to look like wooden soldiers, stars and winter scenes. Several animal exhibits will be open, including the Sea Lion Sound, Essex Farm, Tam-ring Gibbons Reserve, Tropical Currents Aquarium and the Reptile Building.

Myrtle the Turtle, the mascot of Turtle Back Zoo, and several of his winter friends will be on hand to greet visitors at the Zoo. Photographs with Santa Claus will be available each night until December 23.

Holiday activities available at the event have been expanded this year to include themed weekends. Displays, popular films, holiday music, crafts and animal presentations will be offered. In addition, ice carving demonstrations will be presented on Saturdays. Movies will be shown at 5 p.m. and will run continuously in the Sea Lion Sound Exhibit. The schedule for the weekend activities is as follows:

  • Friday, November 28th, Saturday, November 29th, and Sunday, November 30th: “Tis’ the Season: Holiday Traditions” featuring the movie “The Polar Express.”
  • Friday, December 5th, Saturday, December 6th, and Sunday, December 7th: “Frosty Friends: Celebrating our Cold Weather Residents” featuring the movie “Happy Feet.”
  • Friday, December 12th, Saturday, December 13th, and Sunday, December 14th: “Merry ‘Grinch’mas” featuring “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “Mickey’s Christmas Carol.”
  • Friday, December 19th, Saturday, December 20th, and Sunday, December 21st: “Welcome Winter: A ‘Frozen’ Celebration” featuring the movie “Frozen.” Princesses Elsa and Anna will be in attendance.

Admission is free.

The Zoo is collecting non-perishable food items; new, unwrapped toys; and new or gently used winter coats. A new item being collected this year is non-perishable pet food. Items will be donated to several organizations that provide assistance to the needy. Last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, about 5.5 tons of non-perishable food, 5,984 toys and 1,778 winter coats were collected for the less fortunate.

Hot chocolate and other refreshments will be available for purchase. A build your own S’mores Station is a fun new addition this year. For more information, please call Essex County Turtle Back Zoo at 973-731-5800 or visit


During regular operating hours in the winter, Turtle Back Zoo is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Regular admission is $8 for children and senior citizens, $11 for adults and free for children under 2 years. For additional information, please call 973-731-5800 or visit

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