Holiday Lights Festival promises to dazzle

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Marissa Wiese

Thanksgiving day is the kick-off for the holiday season at the Gene Leahy Mall. The Holiday Lights Festival on Nov 24 starts there by decorating the mall area in beautiful white lights.

Mayor Jean Stothert is going to lead the countdown to the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. that Thursday to make Downtown glow.

The tradition started seventeen years ago with the Millennial Lights in 1999 and is sponsored by Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation as one of their biggest Old Market attractions of the year. The lights will dazzle from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. every evening until Jan 2 and bring in around 100,000 visitors throughout the holiday months.

Nothing matches up to the atmosphere of the actual lighting ceremony, though. This will be the second Holiday of Lights Festival for organizer Christine Dunn, and she describes how the experience is still magical for Omaha residents who have seen the ceremony before.

“The anticipation of the lights,” Dunn said, “is still somehow very exciting every year.”

It jump starts the holidays in a glimmer of lights and music at the Gene Leahy Mall. A small concert before the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony will be performed by the Bells and Whistles followed by Mayor Stothert’s countdown. Following the countdown, many of the shops, restaurants and pubs will be open with decorations of their own for festival goers to wander around and enjoy.

Walking around the area to enjoy the hundreds of thousands of lights during the festival is “the best opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere,” according to Dunn.

There will also be a horse drawn carriage that evening as well as the free Making Spirits Bright Holiday Concert at 7 p.m. The concert will feature the Nebraska Wind Symphony and opera vocalist Drew Duncan. This is Duncan’s first performance for the Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony due to bad weather last festival. The 2015 ceremony was postponed from Thanksgiving and the concert had to be cancelled.

Duncan is rescheduled to appear this Thanksgiving at the concert which will also feature a sing along. The visitors who go to walk the streets and admire the lights “can warm up at the concert,” says Dunn.

The Lighting Ceremony is a great addition to any family Thanksgiving holiday.

According to Dunn, “you can go to the lighting ceremony, go to the concert, go get a late dinner if you’re not already stuffed.”

For those who can’t take time from their busy Thanksgiving plans, there’s always the North and South Omaha Holiday lights later in the season. The Holiday of Lights Festival has held these events for the past 5 years thanks to the Sherwood Foundation. They will take place this year on Dec 3.

Sounds of the Season will also ensure that delightful holiday music can be heard every Saturday from Nov 26 through Dec 17 at the Gene Leahy Mall or 11th & Howard in the Old Market by featuring local choir groups.

Omaha residents can celebrate the holiday season with the ConAgra Foods Ice Rink, or the Wells Fargo Family Festival, or simply enjoy the holiday spirit Omaha has to offer.




  1. Roger Humphries, UNO grad 1977 is the President of Downtown Omaha Inc. / Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation and will be on stage with the Mayor to turn on the lights.

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