WEST ORANGE, NJ — The public is invited to spend part of their holiday season at the annual Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular at the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, where free admission will be offered from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Nov. 22, Nov. 23, Nov. 24, Nov. 29 Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The display will also be open daily from Friday, Dec. 6 to Tuesday, Dec. 31 and closed on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

In addition to offering free admission “to make this exciting attraction available to everyone,” the county is also encouraging visitors to bring non-perishable food items; new, unwrapped toys; and new and gently used winter coats to help families in need.

“We invite the public to make this Essex County holiday tradition your family tradition,” said Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo. “Turtle Back Zoo will be turned into a Winter Wonderland, with extraordinary seasonal lighting exhibits and costumed characters. Stroll the landscaped paths of our zoo and admire the illuminated images of everything from toy soldiers to penguins."

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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. More than one million 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.

The Turtle Back Zoo mascot Myrtle the Turtle and several of his winter friends will be on hand to greet visitors at the zoo. Additionally, Meet and Greets with Santa will be held on the following dates:

  • Nov. 29
  • Nov. 30
  • Dec. 1
  • Dec. 6
  • Dec. 7
  • Dec. 8
  • Dec. 13
  • Dec. 14
  • Dec. 15
  • Dec. 20
  • Dec. 21
  • Dec. 22
  • Dec. 23

All collected items will be donated to several organizations that provide assistance to the needy.

Last year, from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, about 13.5 tons of non-perishable food, toys and winter coats were collected for the less fortunate.

The Essex County Holiday Lights Spectacular is sponsored by PSE&G, Covanta Energy, the Zoological Society of New Jersey and the Essex County Parks Foundation.

Hot chocolate and other refreshments will be available for purchase. For more information, call Essex County Turtle Back Zoo at 973-731-5800 or visit www.essexcountynj.org.