Where Every Family Matters

Sneak Peek of Zoolumination at Nashville Zoo

The extraordinary Chinese lantern festival — the largest in the U.S. — opens Friday, Nov. 15. Here's an advance look at the progress.

One of Music City's brand-new fall/winter attractions is gearing up to dazzle your family when Zoolumination: A Chinese Festival of Lights illuminates the Nashville Zoo from Nov. 15, 2019 – Feb. 2, 2020. It's the biggest lantern festival in the United States featuring more than 500 hand-crafted creations on display across 60 acres of the zoo's grounds.

This work in progress will become the elaborate main entry point
at Nashville Zoofrom Nov. 15 – Feb. 2.

Nashville Parent made a trip out to to the zoo to take a look at the progress of the set up, and we can tell you that you and your kids are sure to love what's shaping up to be an enchanting experience. The structures are strewn throughout the zoo's paths, so as you meander through the property, you'll come across different displays, including florals and fruit trees, zoo animals, traditional Chinese lantern designs and a giant 200-foot long dragon! In addition, back in the Grassmere Home area, you'll find Santa's Village featuring different buildings, reindeer, Santa's sleigh, a life-size locomotive and more. The real-life Santa Claus himself will be there every night to greet children through Monday, Dec. 23.

Kids will love the special nod to The Lion King during their Zoolumination experience!

Zoolumination is in partnership with the Zigong Lantern Group from Zigong, China. Zigong has opened lantern festivals in 16 countries and more than 30 cities around the globe.

“Zigong is famous for lanterns,” says Li Lingqiao, Zigong Lantern Group foreman. “It’s a special place for building lanterns and the skill of building lanterns is a combination of arts and technical skills.”

The locomotive that will part of the full-size train in Santa's Village.

There are 48 Chinese nationalists at the zoo (who have been here for weeks) proudly working on putting it all together. It's fascinating to learn that the material that's fitted onto the metal framework is silk, and much of it is hand-painted. 

All of the pieces that can already be seen are magnificent in the daytime just as they are. Seeing them lit up at night is going to be an experience not to miss!

Nashville Zoo plans for Zoolumination to be an annual event, with new pieces coming in during subsequent years to keep things fresh.

A few of Santa's reindeer.


The history of Chinese lanterns dates back to the Eastern Han dynasty from 25 – 220 AD. The original use of Chinese lanterns was to keep flames from catching things on fire, but over time the meaning and tradition have shifted into celebrations popular today.

“Over the years, lanterns have become a symbol of festivals, cheerfulness, rejuvenation and togetherness,” says Qingjun Le, Ph.D., associate professor of Asian studies and Chinese at Belmont University. All this value has been embedded into the culture of using lanterns,” he adds.

A few structures like this one are made mostly of tiny bottles of colored liquid.

Lanterns are also a big part of the Chinese New Year at the end of January (it'll be on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020; Nashville Zoo will be hosting a celebratory event that day).

“Before people are ready to go back to work after the New Year, the tradition is to use lanterns on the last day of the celebration,” Le says. “Everyone uses lanterns, including families, temples and businesses to celebrate.”

Here you can see the framework and
lighting inside the dragon's tale.


Zoolumination runs Nov. 15 – Feb. 2. Hours are daily 5 – 9 p.m. (closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day). Tickets are $19 adults, $14 ages 2 – 12, free ages 23 months and younger. Zoo members receive a $2 discount.

Your best bet is the Platinum Pass. It grants you unlimited visits throughout the duration of Zoolumination for $29 adults and teens, $19 ages 2 – 12.

To purchase Zoolumination tickets, click HERE.

Nashville Zoo is located at 3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville. Call 615-833-1534 or visit nashvillezoo.org.


It's going to be amazing to see this giant dragon lit up at night!
The peacock scene is located near Santa's Village and the Festival Field.
Check out the intricate artwork that
goes into each lantern sculpture.
A fierce tiger.
You'll encounter a giant, beautiful butterfly along your journey.
Happy kangaroos!
A festive walk-through under
traditional Chinese lanterns.
Workers assembling one of the houses in Santa's Village.
Cute panda bears enjoying bamboo treats!
The majestic giraffes. Take notice that all of the animal scenes in the experience include a baby.
A close-up view of one of the pieces made from small bottles of colored liquid.
Parting shot: The lovely flamingos.


About the Author