Winter Wonderland returns to downtown Papillion Saturday.

Winter Wonderland might be in for its biggest celebration ever this year.

The annual event returns to downtown Papillion Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Laura Schwartz, executive director of the Papillion Community Foundation, said she expects a large crowd because the Gene Leahy Mall in downtown Omaha is under construction and there won’t be a lighting ceremony this year.

Plus, “we’ve got some really cool stuff,” she said.

PCF will host a chili feed from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Papillion Fire Station 3, which Schwartz said is a popular event because Winter Wonderland is two days after Thanksgiving and “everyone is tired of turkey.”

One of the most popular attractions, the carriage rides, begin at 5 p.m. and will run throughout the evening. The loading area will be located at the corner of Second and Washington streets.

“Kids love to ride the carriages,” Schwartz said.

The parade will be at 5 p.m. and begin at Papillion Middle School and bring Santa to the historic Portal School, where he will be available for pictures from around 5:15 until 8:40 p.m. Live reindeer will also be in attendance.

A tree lighting ceremony is at 6 p.m. on the lawn of Sump Memorial Library.

The Christkindl market of food and crafts is up to 15 local vendors and will be at Third Street. The market had fewer than 10 vendors the previous two year.

“The Christkindl market has gotten really popular,” she said.

“We’ve gotten the word out that it’s a neat little Christmas environment.”

There will also be a hot chocolate and marshmallow roasting station, a storytime and coloring at Sump, concerts by area middle schoolers and the Papillion Area Concert Band, Disney princesses at First Street Plaza, a winter sock hop for dancing and Christmas music and a food drive for the Tri-City Food Pantry in the Runza parking lot.

New this year is a blood drive with the Nebraska Community Blood Bank at the First Street Plaza. To register, go to donor.ncbb.org.

Streets around downtown Papillion will close around 4 p.m., and Schwartz stressed that anyone planning to attend should take advantage of the trolleys PCF has lined up to transport attendees. Trolleys will be available at the parking lots of Home Depot and Tara Plaza to the north of downtown and near Papillion Middle School and City Park on the south. Parking in the residential areas can be a hassle, she said.

“There’s nowhere to park down here. You can’t get anywhere because the streets are shut down,” she said.

“Once you’re here you can just relax. You don’t have to worry about traffic.”

For more information go to PCF’s website at papillionfoundation.org/schedule.aspx.

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