Gene Leahy Mall sparkles as Holiday Lights return

Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony at Gene Leahy Mall, Omaha
Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony at Gene Leahy Mall, Omaha(Brent Weber)
Published: Nov. 24, 2022 at 10:55 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - To the delight of an estimated 5,000 gathered to see the lights, the opening act for Omaha’s holiday season returned to the Gene Leahy Mall.

“Oh my gosh this is so exciting, the weather cooperated, the music, the people, everything, its incredible,” Downtown Omaha, Inc. Foundation director Richard Callahan said. “Its been a long three years and this will be the start of many more to come.”

The Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony kicked off the 23rd Holiday Lights Festival after being away from Gene Leahy Mall since 2018. The mall reopened to rave reviews and steady visitor traffic this summer.

So when the countdown from Mayor Jean Stothert was followed by a slight delay to the start of the multimedia show, and another when the lights on the tree stuttered a bit before illuminating, she simply showed her holiday spirit.

“Just a little Clarke Griswold moment, you know one goes out they all go out type of thing,” she joked. “We’re so happy to be back in person... I think that’s why we see such a great crowd tonight and its very exciting and the weather is wonderful, so we just hope everybody has a really, really wonderful holiday season.”

The production featured new multimedia elements, and the festival boasts some 130,000 lights around the mall.

While at 30 feet tall with 22,000 lights of its own, the tree didn’t disappoint.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this winter time tradition in Omaha,” MECA communications director Kristyna Engdahl said. “Its really wonderful to see the community come out, and also return to the traditional lights, but also some new exciting elements here in the park as well.”

The Holiday Festival runs through January 2 and includes light displays in other sections of the city. The long-term plan is for the festival to reach across Omaha.

“This is the center of downtown Omaha, and this is back where it needs to be,” Callahan said. “Its only gonna improve with time as the park extends, we hope to extend the lights further out, the Old Market, northside, eastside, all over, we’re gonna do ‘em all.”

And for those who missed the lighting ceremony at Gene Leahy Mall at the RiverFront, the 7:00 multi-media production that spirited in the tree lighting can be enjoyed throughout the season.

“(Kids were) pretty mesmerized by the whole thing,” Mayor Stothert said. “Its important to remember, every Friday and Saturday night through December, we’re gonna have a light show and we’ll have music in the mall, so we hope everybody comes down to enjoy it.”