The rain and cold couldn’t dim the South Omaha Lights festival Friday evening.

The celebration, originally planned for the Plaza de la Raza near 24th and N Streets, was moved to El Museo Latino.

Families and community members gathered to celebrate the holiday season with a Christmas tree lighting, a mariachi band and a visit from Santa Claus.

Story Julien, 2½, waited eagerly for a photo with Santa. Her parents, Lesly and Sarah Julien, came to the lights festival to “start some new traditions.”

“It’s a very cool, impromptu event that we wanted to check out,” Lesly Julien said. “Last year, we went to the Durham, and this year we decided to check this out.”

Omaha-based Mexican Consul Guadalupe Sánchez Salazar said the lights represent “the meaning of the season.”

“The symbol of the light is hope and good in the world, and Christmas lights serve to remind us to provide lights to others,” Sánchez Salazar said to the crowd. “Dear friends, we’re facing challenging times, without any doubt, but in spite of this, I still believe that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.”

Mayor Jean Stothert also spoke of the significance of the event.

“Community and family traditions make this such a special time of year,” Stothert said. “The Holiday Lights Festival is now in its 20th year. … I am very thankful to be the mayor of a city that puts such great value on giving, kindness and compassion.”

The tree lit by the guest speakers might not have been quite as expansive as the sparkling lights of the Plaza de la Raza, but it did the trick — symbolizing that the holiday season has begun.

Omaha’s Holiday Lights Festival runs through Jan. 5. Besides South Omaha, the lights can be seen in the Old Market and on 24th Street from Ohio to Burdette Streets in north Omaha.

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