The BC Wildlife Park's annual Wildlights event will go ahead this year with a few changes and tickets available only in advance due to the pandemic.
"It will look substantially different," said Glenn Grant, executive director of the BC Wildlife Park.
Grant said the event will be limited to 500 people per night, with some areas of the park blocked off and new wayfinding methods to keep people from gathering.
Most notably, perhaps, is that Jolly Old Saint Nick won't be in attendance.
"Santa wants to protect himself from COVID, so he'll be staying at the North Pole and won't be at the event," Grant said, regrettably.
Another staple entertainer at the event will be in attendance, however.
Uncle Chris the Clown will provide on-the-spot entertainment on most nights Wildlights is held, but won't be performing his typical scheduled shows in order to keep people from congregating.
Another potential change this year is the Wildlife Express train, which normally carries passengers around the park, adorned with lights during the winter event.
Grant said he's not yet sure if the train will run this year. That decision has been left up to the volunteer society that operates the train.
"If they can get enough volunteers for it, it may go ahead. But at this point, the train is not operating," he said.
The limitations brought in this year to keep people safe will hurt the park, according to Grant.
"We're going to be limiting our total attendance to about 11,500 people and last year we had just under 23,000 come through, so we're looking at half the attendance this year," Grant said.
In the summer, the park calculated the number of people allowed in the park based on its available outdoor space, with attendance capped at 1,000. A similar calculation was done for Wildlights; however, some areas of the park are closed off, leading to a limit of 500 people through the gate in total each night.
A change has also been made that will allow the park to correct some issues encountered during the summer.
"We saw a few glitches in the summer, where larger groups of six or more were trying to pass each other on the road, and that creates a roadblock," Grant said.
As a result, visitors will be moved through the park on one-way paths counter-clockwise, which Grant said should help avoid any close encounter issues.
But some of the changes made this year will also improve the experience of parkgoers.
The park's popular light tunnel is now twice as long, Grant said, and many older displays have been updated with brighter LED lights.
The event is also making its way into town, somewhat. Grant said he's met with the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association and will help out with festive displays downtown.
Tickets for Wildlights will go on sale on Friday, Nov. 13, and will be available on the BC Wildlife Park website at bcwildlife.org.
Wildlights will run from Dec. 11, 2020, to Jan. 3, 2021, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each night, excluding Christmas Day.