‘Tis the season for hot chocolate, Christmas tree-shaped cookies, and exploring Omaha’s holiday attractions. The Big O celebrates the holiday season in stunning fashion each year with one of the tallest Christmas trees in the Midwest, a giant tree made from poinsettias, and all the lights your senses can enjoy. Add carolers in the Old Market and carriage rides, and there’s something special about celebrating the Christmas season in Omaha. Here’s a look at 11 amazing events that will make Rudolph’s nose red with envy.
1. Omaha Holiday Lights Festival At The Old Market
With more than a million white lights strewn on trees and bushes as well as snowflake lights hanging from the branches, the Old Market area hosts the annual Omaha Holiday Lights Festival in the popular downtown district until January 4. Since 2000, Omaha has celebrated the holiday by decorating the Gene Leahy Mall. But with the downtown park undergoing a makeover, the festival’s lights will return to Leahy in 2022. In the meantime, carolers will roam the brick-laid streets of the Old Market, sharing seasonal tunes, along with a myriad of street performers. Browse storefronts with their holiday decorations, including Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, where it’s Christmas every day. Hop aboard a horse-drawn carriage for either a romantic ride through the area as a couple or a fun adventure with family. While in the Old Market, enjoy dinner at restaurants such as Upstream Brewing Company, Trini’s, or M’s Pub.
2. Christmas At Union Station In The Durham Museum
The venerable Durham Museum is home to Christmas at Union Station, running Thanksgiving through January 10. Hundreds of giant bulbs and ornaments will adorn the 40-foot-tall Christmas tree, among the tallest in the Midwest, anchoring the Great Hall. Each year, a local family donates a giant fir or pine tree to the museum. The Christmas tree shines brightly when the lights dim. Weekends feature the classical sounds of holiday carols performed by area bands and singers. Experience holidays around the world with a visit to the Holidays Cultural Trees Display, featuring trees decorated with ethnic ornaments representing countries such as Germany, Sweden, Japan, and Lithuania.
3. Santa Goes To Space At SAC And Aerospace Museum
No matter your age, seeing Santa Goes to Space at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is a must. With a procession led by Darth Vader and Storm Troopers, Santa Claus arrives in style at the SAC Museum near Ashland on December 5. The daylong event includes a marketplace where visitors can shop for gifts. While at the museum, tour the vintage aircraft and space modules. Following your visit, check out the quaint shops in downtown Ashland, such as Salt Creek Mercantile, home to unique home decor ideas. Gene Roncka Willow Point Art Gallery features original art pieces as well as a small museum featuring taxidermy animals in nature settings. Afterward, enjoy a hand-cut steak or pork tenderloin at Round the Bend Steakhouse.
4. Santa’s Rock N Lights At Werner Park
Papillion’s Werner Park is home to the annual drive-thru Santa’s Rock N Lights. With more than 100,000 colorful lights creating dozens of season displays, the drive-through attraction features unique exhibits such as Santa Claus and his reindeer, toy soldiers, Santas on motorcycles, and candy canes. While you tour the lights, enjoy holiday tunes on the event’s special FM station. Running nightly through January 3, Santa’s Rock N Lights requires advance online purchases. Afterward, grab dinner at Beyond Golf Bar + Kitchen, which offers an excellent menu of burgers, sandwiches (including a beef brisket French dip), and gourmet tacos.
5. North Omaha Holiday Lights And Christmas In The Village
Enjoy the North Omaha holiday lights display through January 4 over a six-block area near the historic 24th and Lake streets. North Omaha is also home to the annual Christmas in the Village on December 5, which celebrates the holiday through music and dance, carriage rides, vendors, concessions, and, of course, Santa Claus. The event runs noon to 5 p.m. You can also explore the area’s history and culture with a visit to the Great Plains Black History Museum. Murals honoring people such as the Tuskegee Airmen are nearby. Afterward, head to Big Mama’s Kitchen for an amazing dinner featuring homemade oven-fried chicken or fish, fried okra, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese.
6. Holiday Poinsettia Show At Lauritzen Gardens
Standing 20 feet tall, the most unique Christmas tree you’ll see during the holiday season is created from more than 700 poinsettias. Add some model trains running along tracks featuring scale models of some of Omaha’s historic buildings, and you’ll enjoy celebrating the annual Holiday Poinsettia Show at Lauritzen Gardens. Featuring more than 5,000 poinsettias among 20 varieties, as well as amaryllis and dozens of festive floral arrangements, the holiday attraction runs through January 3. Festive decorations are located throughout the gardens and the Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory. Grab a premade package and enjoy creating your own S’mores in the firepit area just outside the visitors center. An excellent choice for dinner following your visit is Malara’s Italian Restaurant or Greek Islands for a taste of the Mediterranean.
7. Illuminate Inclusion At Zorinsky Lake Park
Pack a thermos of hot chocolate and a box of holiday cookies and treats as you head to Zorinsky Lake Park in west Omaha for the Illumination Inclusion drive-through holiday lights display, running December 11 and 12. The attraction, open 5 to 9 p.m., serves as a fund-raiser to help build a physically-accessible and inclusive playground at the public park, named after former Mayor Edward Zorinsky. Enter the attraction near the splash pool on the 156th Street entrance. Following your visit, you may want to visit the Shops of Legacy mall to enjoy dinner. Austin’s Steaks and Saloon offers excellent American cuisine, and Blatt Beer and Table offers a unique twist on pub food, such as the Border Burger, featuring Angus beef with a crispy poblano pepper, fire-roasted chile con queso, and chipotle aioli.
8. Winter Wonderland In Papillion
Explore downtown Papillion’s holiday lights display as it’s turned into a Winter Wonderland drive-through experience. With the historical buildings decorated with holiday lights, your experience will be enhanced with storefronts featuring holiday exhibits. The event takes place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. November 28. Papio Pit BBQ is an excellent choice for dinner following your holiday light watching. Featuring dry-rubbed meats and tasty sides, you’ll experience why the eatery was named one of the best restaurants in Sarpy County.
9. South Omaha Holiday Lights
Illuminating the 24th Street corridor between L and Q streets, South Omaha celebrates the Christmas season with Latin music (including mariachi bands), food, and culture through January 4. Visit El Museo Latino to explore Hispanic history and culture in the Omaha area. Tour the area’s impressive mural scene highlighting South Omaha’s history. Browse storefronts featuring colorful displays and seasonal specials. Enjoy authentic Latin dinner at restaurants such as Taqueria El Rey or Taqueria Tijuana. Home to several food trucks, consider grabbing a taco and drink along the street in South Omaha.
10. Season Of Lights At Midtown Crossing
Turner Park transforms into a winter wonderland with its annual Season of Lights at Midtown Crossing. Thousands of white lights adorn the trees in the main area of the retail and entertainment district. Running through February 14, the attraction is perfect for enjoying a cup of hot chocolate as you stroll with a special someone or friends. Afterward, head to Crescent Moon, where you can enjoy the best Reuben sandwich in Omaha. The restaurant is located across the street from the former Blackstone Hotel, where the sandwich was invented.
Pro Tip: If you want to dive deeper into the city's food scene, check out our list of the must-try restaurants in Omaha.
11. La Vista Wonderland
Walk through thousands of colorful holiday lights as La Vista’s Civic Center Park turns into a Winter Wonderland throughout December, with the lights illuminated nightly. Starting at Santa’s Workshop, walk a route that takes you past Santa’s sleigh, snowmen cutouts (great photo opps), and through Candy Cane Lane before exiting on the west side of the workshop. A great choice for dinner before or after your visit is Summer Kitchen Cafe, home to impressive entrees and sandwiches, as well as potato casseroles.
Pro Tip: When visiting Omaha, reserve a room at the historic Magnolia boutique hotel. Located downtown near the Orpheum Theater and a few blocks from the Old Market, the Magnolia offers quaint, attractive rooms. Built in 1923, the former Aquila Court Building was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The hotel offers a complimentary shuttle service to downtown attractions and businesses.