The Wash
(Yousef Alshammari / The Wash)

Smithsonian ZooLights too good to pass, even with day-long rain

Rain made way for a gloomy, picturesque setting at the Smithsonian ZooLights Monday night, which managed to attract visitors despite unappealing weather conditions.

Celebrating its annual lights show, the Smithsonian National Zoo invites all to enjoy illuminated animals in a Christmas-themed environment. The show uses over 500,000 LED lights all powered by D.C.’s electric power company Pepco.

On a rainy night with most of the attractions kept away, a walk through ZooLights may last between 10-20 minutes. (Yousef Alshammari / The Wash)

“I thought it would be emptier than this,” said Husain Karam, a visitor from Birmingham, England. “It feels like a scene from a Tim Burton movie.”

Karam has been wanting to visit the zoo since his college days in Philadelphia. Despite not having animals on display at night, ZooLights was still a worthy visit for him.

“I actually don’t mind the rain. I like the somber yet pretty scenery, it feels like the Grinch is hiding somewhere,” Karam said.

Visitors flocked around a projector as it was counting down to the start of the show. The laser show was accompanied by Christmas songs to which some people were humming along with or even dancing.

Accompanying Karam was Omar Madi, a Canadian on his first visit to Washington, D.C.

Madi said ZooLights was a reward after a “boring meeting.”

On a Monday night, especially a rainy one, visitors don’t get the chance to fully experience ZooLights. Live music, food and an arsenal of attractions are available to the public, but on weekend nights.

For Stuart Elnagdy, a Columbia Heights resident who visited during the weekend, a gloomy ZooLights was a missed opportunity. 

“I think a nice walk all by myself in the zoo with the lights would’ve been perfect,” he said. “Whoever’s walking there on a Monday night, their week’s probably less stressful already.”

Elnagdy has lived in D.C. for almost two years but this marks his first visit to see ZooLights, now in its 13th year. 

One newly added attraction, which the Smithsonian calls “Pandamonium,” with much pun intended, is a virtual reality headset allowing visitors a close-enough encounter with pandas Bei Bei, Bao Bao and their parents. 

Other new attractions include the collection of animal lanterns dotted around the zoo and a promenade of lights around the zoo’s trees and plants. 

Former favorites make a return as well with a laser show projected on the zoo’s famed Elephant Community Center, a European-styled market and multiple children’s rides.

ZooLights offers free admission and runs until New Year’s Day. On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, the zoo will be closed.

Yousef Alshammari

I’m a DC-based Kuwaiti journalist working on a graduate degree in international journalism at American University. Politics and culture by day, insomnia and fiction by night.

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