September 26, 2018

Omaha Annual Holiday Traditions

Omaha’s annual holiday season lasts longer than a month, with a ton of family-friendly celebrations and Christmas traditions you can count on each year. The events usually kick off on Thanksgiving night and run through the first week of January each year. Here are some of my favorite Omaha annual holiday traditions:

Looking for annual Christmas shows, holiday displays and kid-friendly activities in Omaha? Here's a round up of celebrations you can count on each year during the holiday season.

Omaha Holiday Lights Festival

On everyone’s to-do list is to stroll through the Old Market and Gene Leahy Mall where millions of lights are strung up for 40 blocks as part of Omaha’s Holiday Lights Festival. You can count on this festival to kick the holidays off in Omaha – starting with tree lighting and a concert on Thanksgiving Night. The weeks-long festival includes carolers on the weekends, an outdoor ice skating rink, the free Wells Fargo Family Festival, and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Holiday Lights Festival Omaha Ice Rink
The ice rink during the Holiday Lights Festival. Since this picture was taken, the rink has relocated a few blocks to the north.

2019 News: The lights strung around Gene Leahy Mall are one of my favorite parts of the festival. However, starting in 2019, there will be construction that will make it impossible to have the lights up at the mall for a few years. See them this year, before they’re temporarily relocated.

Omaha Attractions With Christmas Celebrations

Omaha’s zoo – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has a couple of events to note. On some weekends, Holiday Happenings is a fun one to catch. Head to the aquarium at designated times to watch Santa and elves scuba dive in the shark tank. The event is included with admission. For an extra fee, there are holiday events with a meal like Pancakes & Penguins.

Durham Museum Christmas tree
The Durham Museum is home to the largest indoor Christmas tree each year. “Christmas at Union Station” usually begins the day after Thanksgiving and runs through early January.

The Durham Museum – One of my favorite ways to kick off the season is the tree lighting ceremony at The Durham Museum. It’s held the day after Thanksgiving each year, and while it’s always super crowded, it’s worth fighting the crowds to be a part of it. It also kicks off Christmas at Union Station, which runs throughout the holidays and includes the Holiday Cultural Tree Exhibit, pictures with Santa, concerts, and the Holiday Cultural Festival.

Santa's Magic annual show Omaha Children's Museum
“Santa’s Magic” runs Nov. 24 through Dec. 23 each year at at Omaha Children’s Museum. In addition to the Snow Queen who makes it snow indoors, children can get one-on-one time with Santa. Photo courtesy Omaha Children’s Museum

Omaha Children’s Museum – If your kids are younger, there’s nothing more magical than “Santa’s Magic,” which runs from Black Friday through Dec.. 23 typically, at Omaha Children’s Museum. It’s an interactive show with an Elsa-like character who makes it “snow” indoors, elves, and Santa arriving by chimney. Kids get a turn talking to Santa at the end.

Holiday Poinsettia Show at Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha
Laurtizen Garden’s Holiday Poinsettia Show is an annual flower show indoors, usually running the weekend after Thanksgiving through early January. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Lauritzen Gardens – Omaha’s botanical gardens have the annual Holiday Poinsettia Show. Kids will like that the model trains run around the displays. While I’m there, I enjoy stopping by the conservatory. It’s a tropical oasis in the winter. For the past two years, the Poinsettia Show has been lit at night for visitors in the evening.

Christmas Concerts In Omaha

There are a few things you can be sure of, and one is that there will be an abundance of Christmas concerts to choose from each year in Omaha.

Omaha Symphony – “Christmas Celebration” has been an annual tradition for years. While the show changes with music and featured performers, you can be sure that Santa will be there (and many “Santas” who will be dancing at one point).

Santa and Omaha Symphony
Santa arrives at the Omaha Symphony’s “Christmas Celebration” one year. Photo courtesy Omaha Symphony

Handel’s Messiah – I have yet to catch this annual performance by Voices of Omaha, but this concert features a long concert choir singing. It’s usually held in mid-November.

Holidays Under Glass – This is a free lunch-time concert series at the Joslyn Art Museum. If you go, you may want to arrive early to make sure you get a seat in the atrium.

Making Spirits Bright Concert & Sounds of the Season – A big part of the Holiday Lights Festival is music. There’s a free concert every year on Thanksgiving night called Making Spirits Bright at the Holland Performing Arts Center. You’ll also find carolers on the weekends in the Old Market and in Gene Leahy Mall for free mini concerts (AKA, Sounds of the Season).

Christmas on Stage In Omaha

Omaha is home to a thriving performing arts scene, and there are quite a few traditional holiday shows performed each year. Plus, many theaters like The Rose will have a holiday show this time of year.

Omaha Community Playhouse – OCP has been performing “A Christmas Carol” for decades and its perfected the musical.  It’s great to introduce to elementary age kids or older (it’s kinda long). The sets, costumes, music and choreography is top notch every year.

A Christmas Carol in Omaha
Jerry Longe is in his 13th year of portraying Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol” in 2018. Photo courtesy Omaha Community Playhouse

American Midwest Ballet – Nebraska Ballet is now American Midwest Ballet, the regions only professional ballet company. They’ve been performing “The Nutcracker” for years, and you can usually catch it at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha or Iowa Western Community College’s Art Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Holiday at Hogwarts show in Omaha
The toast before the first sip of butter beer during the annual show “Holiday at Hogwarts” at Apollon Art Space in Omaha.

Apollon Art Space – A little untraditional, but still it feels like a holiday show, “Holiday At Hogwarts” is an annual dinner theater show at Apollon Art Space. During this interactive show held in December, you’ll talk with familiar characters from Harry Potter’s world in a dining room decorated for Christmas. It’s pretty kid-friendly, so you’re fine going with or without kids. Read more about the show here.

Gingerbread Displays In Omaha

Gingerbread Festival – Each year, dozens and dozens of gingerbread creations are on display at the Mormon Trail Center in North Omaha. The free Gingerbread Festival has a different theme each year and they’re made by children, families and, what I have to guess, are semi-professional gingerbread engineers.

Gingerbread train at Magnolia Hotel in Omaha
Each year, the chef and his team at Magnolia Hotel in downtown Omaha create an elaborate gingerbread scene. It’s free to visit, and located just off the hotel’s lobby. 

Magnolia Hotel – Stop by the downtown hotel’s lobby during the holidays to see the chef’s creations. One year, it was a gingerbread train and town.

Holiday Shopping In Omaha

For holiday shopping in Omaha, there are a couple events that I particularly look forward to.

Hot Shops Winter Open House – Hot Shops is a collection of studios and galleries of local artists working in different media. Twice a year, the open house invites the public in to see their work, watch live demonstrations (check out the glass blowing) and, of course, shop. The open house is typically the first weekend in December.

Hot Shops glassblowing demonstration during open house
Shop for one-of-a-kind gifts and watch artist demonstrations during the Hot Shops open house, typically held the first weekend in December.

Holiday Market – The Holiday Market is Omaha’s answer to Christmas markets in Europe, though definitely not as big. Shop booths of local and regional artists and food vendors in tents at Aksarben Village. Santa is usually found somewhere in the market, too. The Holiday Market is typically the first weekend in December.

Round up of annual holiday events, shows, and festivals in Omaha. These are events you can plan on if you're visiting for the first time or you want to start a holiday tradition.  #Christmas #Santa #holidays

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