Watching two reindeer in the California Academy of Sciences’ East Gardens on a cloudy day, a child recently asked, “Will they be OK when it rains?” The mother, probably not a spelling bee winner, replied, “Sure, they are reindeers!”
Better known as caribou in North America, the Arctic deer, with their spectacular antlers, are perhaps the most popular part of the Academy’s current show, “’Tis the Season for Science.” The male is called Miles; the name of the female will be supplied by the winner of a contest sponsored by the Academy.
The person who comes up with the name of the 7-month-old — currently thriving on lichens, mosses, herbs, ferns, grasses, shoots and leaves, with a weakness for graham crackers — will join the reindeer handler to help feed the animals and tour the research collection’s antler specimens. (The deadline for entries is Monday.)
Another prominent exhibit is the gigantic snowman, actually the top of a dome that houses the Snowman Theater, featuring video presentations about the science of snow. A more tactile experience comes with indoor snow flurries twice an hour; soap suds, portraying the snow, melt away just like the real thing.
All the birds of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” are at the Academy: swans, geese, colly birds (“calling birds” or blackbirds), hens, doves and, of course, a partridge in a pear tree. Taxidermy specimens of the real birds are accompanied by fun information, including the fact that partridges — being ground-nesting, seed-eating pheasants — do not dwell in any kind of tree.
The exhibition focuses on the science behind some of the most familiar holiday sights, sounds and traditions. It includes an aromatic Spice Forest, including botanical specimens that are the source of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
Quiz shows, live music, dance and theater performances accompany the displays.
Among live holiday shows on the exhibit stage across from the Snowman Theater in the central lobby are: “Dance-Along Nutcracker,” with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and California Revels’ Solstice Ensemble — choristers singing seasonal traditionals — at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
A program on Eskimo traditions by Chuna McIntyre, a storyteller from Alaska who grew up in Yupik Eskimo culture, runs at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 10-11 and Dec. 18.
The Musical Art Quintet, an eclectic chamber music group, appears at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 and Dec. 27, while Yuletide Carolers sing at 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 21-22 and 24.
IF YOU GO
Presented by the California Academy of Sciences
Where: 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays, closed Christmas Day; show closes Jan. 16
Tickets: $24.95 to $29.95
Contact: (888) 670-4433, www.calacademy.org