It was so cold Saturday that the live Nativity scene at Mount Moriah Baptist Church was forced indoors, into the church basement.
No matter. The children were transfixed by the animals.
They eagerly lined up to pet a camel named Balthazar as well as a donkey, a sheep, a calf and two Nigerian goats.
The Nativity animals were part of Christmas in the Village, where five blocks of north Omaha transformed into a winter wonderland. Organizers said about 1,200 people turned out at 24th and Lake Streets to explore the festival’s offerings.
The event, in its third year, grew out of a north Omaha revitalization plan that aims to build a thriving neighborhood and business network.
More than 85 organizations and vendors participated, double last year's figures.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child,” said the Rev. Ralph Lassiter, pastor at Mount Moriah. “Christmas in the Village gathers everybody together in fellowship so we can bring life back to north Omaha.”
Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, said collaborative events like this are one way to “build a thriving arts, entertainment and business district in north Omaha.”
He said the children's faces showed that great things are possible when the community works together. Smiles lit up their faces after Santa Claus gave them presents.
Volunteers from the Charles B. Washington Library also gave away more than 300 free books and bags.
Cyndi Hume of Council Bluffs attended with her sister and her sister's 3-year-old grandson.
“I'm impressed,” Hume said. “It's really fun for the kids. Sometimes the community needs positive things, and this is a positive thing.”
Businesses sold their products inside the Love Jazz & Arts Center. Divine Nspirations owner Valerie Howard said the event was “fabulous.”
Besides shoppers, the Love center was filled with the smells of gumbo and the sounds of live music. At one point, four area pastors sang Christmas carols.
Barney said one underlying theme united the event: togetherness.
“It's all about families being together for the holidays,” he said.