Reindeer Festival full of imagination

Two boys leaned against the reindeer fence at Cougar Mountain Zoo and imagined the creatures flying off Christmas Eve. They wondered about the magic and allowed it to be true for a brief moment while their stories unfolded. While Santa’s flying reindeer may very well be a myth, many people still don’t know that reindeer are real creatures.

Robbie Matos feeds reindeer at Cougar Mountain Zoo’s Christmas festival.

Robbie Matos feeds reindeer at Cougar Mountain Zoo’s Christmas festival.

Two boys leaned against the reindeer fence at Cougar Mountain Zoo and imagined the creatures flying off Christmas Eve.

They wondered about the magic and allowed it to be true for a brief moment while their stories unfolded.

While Santa’s flying reindeer may very well be a myth, many people still don’t know that reindeer are real creatures.

A type of caribou, reindeer are the only deer species with furry noses and where both genders have antlers, said Robyn Barfoot, head elf and general curator of the zoo.

Ritu Chatterjee first saw the reindeer three years ago, as she was in the process of moving from the East Coast with her two children.

“We came here on Christmas Eve, and it was magical,” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re close to the North Pole.”

The zoo first introduced the festival about 22 years ago with a few reindeer and Santa’s house. Now the family tradition includes 10 reindeer, and is the zoo’s major winter attraction.

“We have families who travel from wenatchee every year to visit the festival,” Barfoot said.

The Reindeer Festival now includes story times with elves, a grand traveling sleigh and a post office for writing letters to Santa.

“It helps us survive through the winter,” Barfoot said, adding that all the proceeds go toward the animals. “We encourage people to come out and give generously, but mainly have a good time.”

Chatterjee’s children enjoyed feeding the animals the most, bring quarters for food pellets.

Many of the zoo’s staple attractions are also open through the festival.

It’s open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily through Dec. 30, except it’s closed Dec. 24-25. It’s located at 19525 S.E. 54th St., Issaquah. Entry is $9.50-$11.50.

Nine of the 10 reindeer at the Issaquah Reindeer Festival are named for Santa’s reindeer. The 10th is Olive, who is Santa’s backup.

Celeste Gracey/Issaquah Reporter


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