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Video: A holiday tradition returns to downtown Omaha

December 12, 2022 | Jason Kuiper | community

holiday lights festival omaha

For the first time since 2018, the Holiday Lights Festival has returned to Gene Leahy Mall at the RiverFront.

The lights came back on at the mall, which has been under construction since 2019, on Thanksgiving night during the annual lighting ceremony. The lights, which will be on display until Jan. 2, attract visitors from all over.

holiday lights festival omaha MISC_Downtown Holiday Lights 2022 3
Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

The Holiday Lights Festival, now in its 23rd year, culminates with the New Year’s Eve fireworks to cap the holiday season. For many, making the trip to downtown Omaha to take in the lit up spectacle is a must-see part of the holiday season.

“Holiday lights in Gene Leahy Mall are a beloved tradition in downtown Omaha,” said Kristyna Engdahl, a spokesperson for MECA (Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority). “And since it’s The RiverFront’s mission to serve our community, bringing back the white, twinkling lights was an important part of organizing holiday celebrations in the park – along with some exciting new decorations and surprises.”

Today’s light are much more energy-efficient than lighting displays of old. The lights at the park are all LED and most run on timers to maximize efficiency, Engdahl said.

Festival facts and figures

Here are some other fun facts about the lights at the mall:

  • There are 110,000 twinkling lights in Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront this holiday season.
  • Another 22,000 lights on the holiday tree, alone.
  • The tree, which sits in the middle of the Downtown Green event lawn, is 30 feet tall.
  • Along with white lights, as seen in years past, a visitors can watch a holiday multimedia show featuring color-changing lights, video and music  every Friday and Saturday until the new year.

You can enjoy more festive lights beyond the mall. Lights illuminate the Old Market from 10th to 13th streets and from Jackson to Farnam streets. There are about 250,000 lights in the Old Market, and they are all LED.

holiday lights festival omaha
Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske

And parts of north and south Omaha are lit up, as well, by the same organization, Vic Gutman & Associates (VGA), that manages the Holiday Lights Festival.

Thanks to the Sherwood Foundation and the Lozier Foundation, more lights are on display along North 24th Street from Burdette to Ohio streets, and along South 24th Street from L to Q streets, said Maggie Winton, Event Marketing Coordinator for VGA.

VGA estimates all the “Holiday Lights Festival events attract a combined total of 100,000 people over a six week period.”

“Omaha is truly lucky to have three incredibly vibrant community hubs all near each other and the Holiday Lights Festival’s lighting displays are a way to tie these hubs together,” Winton said. “Being able to tie these hubs together through holiday lighting displays year after year is a collective effort and it just reinforces how dedicated our community is to joining together for the betterment of the city.”

festival of lights omaha
Photo by Danielle Beebe-Iske
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About Jason Kuiper

Jason Kuiper joined OPPD as a communications specialist in 2015. He is a former staff writer and reporter at the Omaha World-Herald, where he covered a wide range of topics but spent the majority of his career covering crime. He is a graduate of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and has also appeared in several true crime documentary shows. In his free time he enjoys cooking, spending time with his wife and three children, and reading crime novels.

View all posts by Jason Kuiper >

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