Zoolights and the Value of Tradition

(I’ll be continuing my series on museum games next week. Another project took precedence this week–yes, despite Thanksgiving–so I haven’t yet done the research I need to.)

Every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Lincoln Park Zoo (and, no doubt, a number of others) offers its Zoolights display. Much of the zoo is decorated with lights, and it stays open into the night for people to come in and look. There are a couple of musical light displays as well, including one in the middle of a field that cycles through 45-second clips of holiday music and another with small Christmas trees that light up, except for the third one from the right, which has been broken for a the last couple years.

It’s crowded, it’s cheesy, and I love it unabashedly.

It’s not because it’s tasteful, or because it’s brilliant, or even that it’s particularly unique. Sure, it’s a high concentration of lights, but I’m really not much more dazzled by that than the ones I could find in front of a thousand homes within a mile of my apartment.

My affection for Zoolights has much more to do with me than it. I first went to it a couple years ago, in the early part of some extremely bad times when the shock was fresh and raw. So now, forever, deservedly or not, Zoolights to me is that bit of silliness that managed to give me an hour’s respite from problems that were even invading my sleep.

And now, Zoolights is a cherished tradition. Not a typical one–I don’t think there were many other single men in their 30s there–but cherished tradition nonetheless. For museums and similar institutions, I think it shows at least one value of these kind of unique events. People will relate to them in their own way that can’t necessarily be predicted.

For a museum, it’s certainly better to be a part of someone’s personal traditions than not.

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