A year following a close call with a spooked giraffe during Charleston’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, city leaders have opted out of using animals during the event Saturday.

The near-mishap occurred when a giraffe tryied to break free from its handler in a crowded Marion Square, but that isn’t the reason behind the change of heart, said Scott Watson, the director of the city’s Office of Cultural Affairs, who organizes the ceremony.

“We looked at it with new eyes going into this year,” Watson said.

Two years ago, the city used three camels during the holiday kickoff. Watson said he wanted to get away from that growing tradition and refocus the event.

“It’s important to put the focus on the cultural component, which is something people can appreciate,” he said. “Rather than it just be ‘Who can sing ‘Oh Holy Night’ the nicest?’ We’re trying to use it as a showcase event for all the holiday events going on in the city.”

Some of the logistics behind the tree-lighting ceremony also changed. The city previously produced the event in partnership with an outside production company, Watson said. This year the city is using the groups highlighting their holiday events to provide the entertainment.

Watson wasn’t with the Cultural Affairs office when last year’s giraffe incident happened, and said he simply had a new vision for the event, which did not include animal entertainment.

Spooked by spectacle

Despite the city’s reasons, a representative for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was thrilled to hear the news. Last year, Kristin Simon, a senior cruelty caseworker from Norfolk, Va., called on Charleston to halt its use of live animals in such events, saying spectacles terrorize them and bring them too close to humans.

The comments were made after the 2-year-old giraffe began bucking like a bronco during a Santa Claus arrival skit last year. The giraffe apparently was spooked by flashing camera lights, the amplified sound of a carol-singer and explosive “pops” from white confetti shot into the air.

The giraffe came from a farm in South Carolina and appeared along with two zebras.

No one was reported injured, but some in the crowd said they were worried a potentially dangerous episode was in the making. Simon called a video of the event “very disturbing” and a “huge folly” on the part of the city. This year, Simon said the city has made the right choice to go animal-free.

“Animals exploited for entertainment live an unnatural and hellish existence. When stressed by lights and crowds, they could easily be distracted and injure onlookers,” she recently told The Post and Courier. “We tip our hats to the city.”

As for this year’s entertainment, Watson said people won’t be disappointed with a program featuring music and dance.

“I’m confident there will be great time,” he said. “I am confident that people will come and enjoy themselves and if we’re fortunate enough to have Santa coming, it will be a great evening.”

Reach Natalie Caula Hauff at 937-5594 or Twitter.com/ncaula.