A line formed outside the Omaha Children’s Museum on Sunday as families waited for the doors to open at one of the five stops for the Holiday Lights Family Festival, but 5-year-old Felix Cortez was already having a ball playing on an old firetruck outside.

“We like to celebrate all the traditions with our son,” said Elisa Cortez of Papillion. “We try to make memories for him.”

Felix, who wants to be a firefighter and a ninja, didn’t notice the cold or the few swirling snowflakes as he bounced behind the steering wheel of the firetruck. He shouted with joy and made engine noises as he steered toward an imaginary fire with all the boundless energy a little boy can summon.

The Children’s Museum was the first stop for Felix and his mom, but they were also going to some of the other stops that included the Durham Museum, the Omaha police horse barn, Joslyn Art Museum and the YMCA. All the festival locations were free and accessible by riding Ollie the Trolley from noon to 5 p.m.

Asked if the day of events would burn up her son’s energy, Elise Cortez wryly smiled. “We’ll see,” she said.

When the line began moving into the museum at 500 S. 20th St., Felix bounded out of the firetruck and grabbed the sleeve of his mom’s coat.

“C’mon on mom,” he shouted. “They’re moving!”

Over at the horse barn at 615 Leavenworth St., the horses were nearly as excited as the young boy. The ears of the horses were pricked up a full hour before their visitors were due to arrive.

Officer Marc Van Sickle was busy grooming Jeb, his 4-year-old mount. Jeb came to the mounted patrol about a year ago from an Amish farm in Missouri, where he was used to plow.

“The horses know something’s going on because there already are a lot of volunteers here,” Van Sickle said. “The horses are excited to meet everybody coming through here today. Our horses are very social.”

The horse barn is always a popular stop, said Sgt. Joe Svacina. The crowds were down this year because of weather, but 6,200 visitors came through during the festival in 2018.


Don and Dee Ruleaux with their grandsons Remy, 4, and Liam, 7, at the Durham Museum, their second stop during the Holiday of Lights Family Festival. Remy and Liam are wearing cowboy hats they received at the Omaha police horse barn.

Besides demonstrations of skill by the mounted patrol, there was face painting, balloons and cowboy hats for every hombre that ambled through the barn. Children were encouraged to decorate their cowboy hats with stickers.

“One of the reasons that we do the demonstrations is because it helps the horses burn off their extra energy,” Svacina said. “They see all the extra people and they love to perform.”

An angry mule kick away at the Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St., the B Natural String Quartet began playing music in front of the gigantic Christmas tree donated by Omahans John and Dianna Flores. The tree, named “Big Blue,” is considered Omaha’s Christmas tree.

The string quartet of Alexandria Kasun, Lisa Lopez, Kylin Baxter and Ann Frame set just the right tone with a medley of Christmas songs. All the women are OPS teachers with the exception of Frame, who recently retired.

“I used to come and play with my students,” Frame said. “Now, it’s the ladies.”

Charity Irish of Omaha and her children, Caden, 4, and Camri, 2, marveled at the quartet’s music. The kids had a hard time standing still as their mom angled for a photo in front of the musicians.

“(The Durham Museum) is just amazing and the tree is beautiful,” Charity Irish said. “The kids loved playing on the train downstairs.”

The kids were ready for whatever would come next, be it horse barn, museum or Christmas music at the YMCA, she said.

“We’re taking Ollie the Trolley,” Irish said. “We’ll go wherever it takes us.”

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