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Travels in the Heartland: Celebrating the season with Nebraska’s Holiday Passport

Posted at 4:46 PM, Nov 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-25 17:46:02-05

OMAHA, Neb. (The Walking Tourists) — Cookies. Hot chocolate. Thousands of colorful twinkling lights. Oh, and get a passport stamp. The people who brought you the Nebraska Passport program invite you to visit up to 20 spots around the state for a little holiday cheer and the chance to win prizes as part of the inauguralNebraska Holiday Passport.

From theSoutheast Nebraska Cancer Memorial Garden in Humboldt toPeppermill Restaurant in Valentine, Nebraska Tourism created the program to encourage people to travel the state and experience unique attractions, shops and restaurants to help celebrate the holiday season.

Running through Jan. 1, travel the state or visit your area to find out how other communities celebrate the holidays. Passports can be picked up at any of the 20 stops.


In Creighton, SantaLand, Santa's Workshop and Mrs. Claus' Gingerbread House welcomes visitors nightly through Dec. 23 (Santa and Mrs. Claus need to head home to North Pole to prepare for his Christmas travels). The community event in the northeast Nebraska community, about 2.5 hours from Omaha, has grown into a popular attraction over the past 25 years, said Andrea Jeggerling, a longtime volunteer.

More than 500,000 colorful lights illuminate Bruce Park, attracting about 500 people each weekend night. Lighted displays, some donated to SantaLand, range from cute seasonal designs to religious themes.


Santa's Workshop and Mrs. Claus' Gingerbread House feature elves working hard on this year's toy orders. Children line up for their turn to share their Christmas wishlist with Santa Claus, while Mrs. Claus works by his side. Visitors are offered free hot chocolate and cookies during their visit.

SantaLand is popular with people from as far away as Omaha and South Dakota.

"It's a major attraction for us," Jeggerling said.

Lauritzen Gardens, Gene Leahy Mall

New York skyline at Lauritzen Gardens

Closer to home, the Omaha area offers a bevy of attractions, butLauritzen Gardens and the holiday lights atGene Leahy Mall at the Riverfront are the city's contributions to this year's passport.

With more than 50 species, visitors will find Prestige Red - possibly the best-known of poinsettias - and speckled plants among the displays at the visitors center's exhibit hall. This year, Lauritzen Gardens brings the Big Apple to the Big O, as it shares the sights and sounds of New York City. With silhouettes of the city's skyline along the wall, the annual 20-foot-tall Christmas tree - made entirely of poinsettias - anchors the display.

The New York exhibit resembles the Rockefeller Plaza, with the poinsettia tree at the end of the center's poignant white angels blowing their trumpets. The Omaha display includes dozens of poinsettias at the base.

Nestled in a bed of poinsettias, scale models of classic Omaha buildings, such as the Durham Museum, First National Tower and Rose Theater, celebrate the city's history.

At night, the Gardens’ poinsettia display, as well as the gardens at the Marjorie K. Daughtery Conservatory are illuminated in the season’s colors as part of Bright Nights (timed tickets are required). The conservatory also features additional displays.

The Family Chill Zone includes a fire pit, where people can make s'mores (which can be purchased at the front desk), play games such as cornhole or just relax, enjoying the frosty weather of the season.

Downtown, holiday lights will ring the renovated Gene Leahy Mall at the Riverfront, along with large ornaments and other displays. A seven-minute multimedia program plays each Friday and Saturday night. Visitors can get their passport stepped atTannenbaum Christmas Shop in the Old Market, which will have its holiday lights and seasonal decorations.

Milady Coffeehouse

Decorated for the season and offering special drink flavors,Milady Coffeehouse in Fremont is perfect for a holiday pick-me-up drink or bite to eat. Located in the historic Mays Brothers Building in downtown Fremont, Milady has a unique decor, with an eclectic collection of vintage tables and chairs. Calling itself Fremont's "largest living room," Milady is an excellent spot to get a passport stamp.

Magical Lights of Seward

Magical Lights of Seward

Located at the Seward Country Fairgrounds, theMagical Lights of Seward is Nebraska's largest drive-thru holiday lights display. Open nightly through Dec. 31, visitors witness a variety of light displays, created exclusively for the Seward event, such as a 30-foot-long piano, which is illuminated and plays music. Online tickets must be purchased prior to visiting the attraction.

Timbers at Lied Lodge

The Timbers at Lied Lodge in Nebraska City embraces the season with an abundance of holiday decorations. Walking into the restaurant, you'll feel like you're in a winter wonderland.

Minden – Christmas City


No holiday season is complete without a visit to Nebraska's officialChristmas City - Minden. Long known for being home to Pioneer Village, Minden transforms into "Christmas City" with the Kearney County Courthouse decorated with red and green lights in the building's windows, as well as strung up over the courthouse square.

The tradition started more than a century ago when a local leader strung lights from the train depot to downtown as a welcome for people attending the state's 1915 Grand Army of the Republic convention. An ice storm prevented the lights from working, so later they were strung at the courthouse's dome for Christmas. The tradition was born. Today, more than 7,500 red and green light bulbs illuminate the downtown area.

So, pack a thermos of hot chocolate, a box of cookies and head out to Nebraska's winter wonderland, as you visit some of the state's favorite holiday spots. Will you get all 20 stamps?

Read more from Tim and Lisa Trudell, The Walking Tourists, on their Travels in the Heartland page.

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