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God rest ye merry, gentle beasts


Got that slightly crazed, holidazed feeling? We'll try to help -- o at least give you a few seasonal laughs -- weekdays in The Sun.

CHICAGO -- Dr. Dolittle would have been proud.

"Deck the hall with boughs of holly," sang 9-year-old Christopher Jett, huddled around the sea lion pool at the Lincoln Park Zoo the other day. "Fa la la la la, la la la la."

It's a precious Christmas image: Cherub-faced youngsters strolling down snow-covered streets, serenading families that flock to their doorsteps bearing warm cider and cookies.

In Chicago, however, the great yuletide custom lives on, albeit with a twist. Carolers don't sing to people anymore. They sing to animals.

Every year, a few Sundays before Christmas, throngs of Chicagoans gather to warble a message of Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Animals to the lions, gazelles, elephants, giraffes, hedgehogs, armadillos, iguanas, turtles, turtledoves, partridges and all the other species on display.

"We're not supposed to anthropomorphize, but I think they love it," insisted Carol Leifer, a zoo representative. "I have seen spectacled bears swaying to the music."

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