You know it's Christmastime in Bakersfield when we reach the weekend HolidayLights opens at California Living Museum. The popular annual event returns for the 17th year Saturday with all its 3 million-plus lights blazing.

"We are thrilled that the community continues to make this an annual tradition," Steve Sanders, chief of staff at the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, which runs CALM, wrote in an email. "We love seeing families that have come to HolidayLights for years share the experience with new family members and friends.” 

More than 67,000 people have attended annually in recent years, drawn to the festive display designed by creative force Josh Barnett and his Lightasmic! crew.

Each year, Barnett and his team update elements of the attraction to keep it fresh for returning guests. Sanders said changes this time around include a completely retooled layout at the entrance, two new pedestrian tunnels, a new North Pole scene in the train area, a new lighthouse in the CALM Cove and new displays in the Winter Wonderland. 

In addition to new designs, workers also swap out existing bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs. After years of these updates, HolidayLights is now 98 percent LED.

One thing that has not changed is admission, which has remained the same for more than 10 years to keep this an event families can afford to attend, Sanders said. The cost is $12, $10 for seniors/youth 13-17, $6 for children 3-12 and free for those under 3.

Save $2 by buying your tickets from Dec. 2-5 or Dec. 9-12 at any Kern Schools Federal Credit Union branch, at CALM or at the gate during the event. CALM members and military also receive 50 percent off admission.

Sanders said all funds raised at HolidayLights are used to support CALM.

“HolidayLights helps support our local zoo and native gardens by providing revenue to help us enhance existing exhibits and build new exhibits to educate the public," he wrote. "Our California Coast Room and the Condor Exhibit are recent examples of how attendance at HolidayLights helps us to grow and thrive.”

This year's goals include expanding the zoo's veterinary clinic and upgrading several existing exhibits, an ongoing project for the 37-year-old facility.

HolidayLights runs through Jan. 4 and is only closed on Christmas Day.

UP FOR ANOTHER AWARD

In addition to earning accolades in the Best Of Readers’ Choice Poll through Bakersfield Life Magazine and being named one of the top 10 light shows in the western U.S. by the Los Angeles Times, HolidayLights is aiming higher. The event is in the running for USA Today's 10BEST Zoo Light Shows.

There are 20 events in contention, with people able to vote once a day at 10best.com/awards/travel/best-zoo-lights/holiday-lights-at-california-living-museum-bakersfield-calif until the deadline of Monday at 9 a.m. 

The 10 winning events, based on votes, will be announced on Dec. 13. 

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.

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