Downtown Riverside will be glowing bright tonight, colored in holiday hues, as the 19th annual Festival of Lights gets under way, according to officials.
The event will begin with a switch-on ceremony outside the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa.
“We are delighted to bring the Festival of Lights back … The awe and excitement in the community are the reason we have made this event into such a long-running annual tradition,” said Mission Inn owner Duane Roberts. “It brings great joy to all that experience the Festival of Lights, which is the true meaning of the holiday spirit.”
More than 3.6 million twinkling lights will glow around the hotel every night until the end of the festival, which is being extended a full week this year to Jan. 8.
The city’s Main Street pedestrian mall will also be aglow, with decorations arranged throughout the walkway, which traverses Mission Inn and University avenues, stopping at Riverside City Hall.
The festival, which has been recognized as one of the most impressive holiday light displays in the country, will begin following remarks by Roberts and city officials. The Mission Inn owner will flip a switch, setting off a five-minute fireworks extravaganza, after which the lights will shine.
A two-story Christmas tree will be on display in front of the hotel, with some 400 animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, scattered around the perimeter of the century-old inn.
There are regular appearances by Santa Claus and his helpers through Christmas, as well as horse-drawn carriage rides, carolers and an assortment of vendors.
The city appropriated $389,000 for this year’s festival, with some of the funds paying for a 45- by 90-foot ice skating rink already set up on Main Street, at University Avenue.
The hotel is also planning to open a virtual winter wonderland, complete with fresh snow.
A 20-person team began stringing lights and ringing the hotel with other decorations in mid September. Preparations continued daily, with partial street closures sometimes necessary to put the trappings in place.
Last year’s festival drew more than 250,000 visitors, according to organizers.