Nellie MacCallum remembers the vast, white snowflakes that were hung from the ceiling above trees decked with holiday ornaments inside the old Brandeis store.
But for her, the downtown department store was more than just decorations — it was the whole experience.
“You were stepping into another world,” said MacCallum, marketing director of Nebraska Shakespeare.
Now 26 years after J.L. Brandeis & Sons was sold to Younkers, there's a new holiday tradition for nostalgics and creative types. Much like the Brandeis tradition, Midtown Crossing's second Miracle on Farnam will showcase the holiday spirit of 21 arts and cultural organizations through window displays.
Miracle on Farnam will debut Saturday night at dusk, with a formal unveiling of the elaborate displays and holiday lights at Midtown Crossing and Turner Park. The Omaha Children's Museum will host a family fun day earlier in the day, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Midtown Crossing, 3220 Farnam St., with activities to include a window-to-window scavenger hunt and pictures with Santa Claus.
“You can decorate cookies, listen to carolers near the Christmas tree and stroll up and down Farnam Street to see the windows,” said Molly Skold, a spokeswoman for Midtown Crossing.
The window displays will be available for viewing every day from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. through New Year's Day.
It is all free, including three hours of garage parking. (After that, it's $1 an hour. The center has 3,000 spaces in two garages.)
Skold said stores and restaurants will keep regular hours, as posted on Midtown Crossing's website.
She said organizers were struck by the number of people who came during last year's inaugural event and with the impressive displays. “The creativity that went into the windows blew our minds. Everyone had their favorites and that's what made it so fun.”
Nebraska Shakespeare is one of the new groups competing to be the most popular window display in hopes of winning a $3,000 donation from the Alan and Marcia Baer Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports Nebraska arts, educational agencies and charities.
Alan Baer, who died in 2002, was the great-grandson of Jonas L. Brandeis, founder of the Boston Store, which led to the J.L. Brandeis & Sons Department Store.
“With Miracle on Farnam, a cherished holiday and family tradition has returned to Omaha. We are thrilled to be a part of the celebration and the warm memories to come,” said Ted Baer, Alan Baer's son and foundation president.
Nebraska Shakespeare's theme, “The Twelve Months of Shakespeare,” is a combination of the classic holiday tune “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the Advent calendar. MacCallum said each day is represented with a door that will reveal year-round activities hosted by Nebraska Shakespeare, widely known for its summer plays in Elmwood Park.
“Our display will show people that we aren't just Shakespeare on the Green,” MacCallum said.
MacCallum said Miracle on Farnam reminds her of when she was a young girl in the 1950s walking by department store windows, staring at the holiday displays.
“We used to take the bus downtown and go through the stores to see what kind of decorations they had,” MacCallum said. “That was a whole different era when it was an event to go downtown.”
The winner of Miracle on Farnam will be determined by a public vote, which begins Saturday and ends Jan. 1. Votes can be cast in ballot boxes at all Midtown Crossing retailers or at www.miracleonfarnam.com/vote.
Other groups with window displays are: Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, El Museo Latino, Fontenelle Forest, Knights of Ak-Sar-Ben, Love's Jazz and Arts Center, University of Nebraska at Omaha, Durham Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Joslyn Castle Trust, Kent Bellows Studio, Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha Children's Museum, Omaha Community Playhouse, Omaha Performing Arts, Omaha Symphony Orchestra, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Opera Omaha, Rose Theater, Strategic Air & Space Museum and the Baer Foundation.