By Olbunmi Laditan
By Olbunmi Laditan
An impatient hush swept over the crowd of thousands gathered at Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street seconds before 2.5 million star-like Christmas lights suddenly illuminated the historic Mission Inn.
The 12th annual Festival of Lights ceremony on the evening of Nov. 26 was a hit with the men, women and children of Riverside as well as many tourists.
The event even earned a position on the list of America’s Best Top 10 Christmas light shows this year.
Mission Inn owner Duane Roberts, who led the audience in the 6:25 p.m. countdown, expressed the joy he felt.
“No matter how old you get, there’s still a little kid in you,” Roberts said, to the assembly.
After the lighting, streaks of bright color lit up the sky as an elaborate fireworks display above the hotel captivated the attention of all.
“This (the fireworks) is my favorite part, I could stand here forever,” said 1978 RCC graduate Robert Muro.
While the festivities centered on the elaborate hotel lighting, mere yards away, at the Main Street promenade, vendors and performers were ready with entertainment and refreshments for the public.
“The best part of this is just being with family and enjoying the Christmas spirit,” said participant Marry Miller who was in attendance with her husband, Jason.
Of course, what would a Christmas festival be without Santa? The North Pole native didn’t stand a chance as mobs of children spotted him and his three huge bodyguards exiting the Mission Inn.
“Santa, Santa!,” could be heard chanted by the young voices. Saint Nick responded by generously giving out candy canes as well as a few hugs to the grateful little ones.
Family portraits with Snowball the Snowman, Rudy the Reindeer and in Santa’s sleigh were also available.
Many Southern California organizations could be seen dazzling the public with their skills all down the long stretch of the promenade.
“We get tons of support from the audience. Its great how everyone comes together over the holidays,” said dancer Karen Martin.
To add a little cultural spice to the season, a traditional Mexican Hat Dance was performed by youngsters.
With so many activities to partake in from a nativity scene puppet show to face painting, there really was something for everyone.
Three-year-old Adriana Reed had an amazed look on her face as she struggled to take in the sights.
“This is her first time and she’s enjoying it so much,” said her mother Darla Goss.
The Dickens Singers, a group composed of Grove Community Church members, were enjoying their 12th year singing at the festival.
“We’ve been performing since the beginning. We’re here for the people,” said Dickens members Steve Brown.
The ensemble, all decked out in Victorian period attire (top hats and all), lead willing audience members in classic Christmas selections such as “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.”
Further down the promenade members of the Backstreet Performing Arts studio were amazing a growing audience with their musical and dance routines.
Young singer Hannah Boatman, who inspired a thunderous applause with her rendition of “Spanish Rose,” had this to say about the night’s festivities:
“We’re here to practice, entertain and make people happy,” Boatman said.
To bring and end to the magical evenings, many families chose to take a place in the long line for a horse drawn carriage ride around the Mission Inn.
Christmastime is infamous for producing maxed out credit cards, crazed tickle-me-teddy hunters, mounds of non-biodegradable tinsel and adding 10 pounds of insulation to each of us.
Thank goodness for evenings such as these that allow people to pause and experience the essence of the holiday season with those who mean most to them.
The Festival of Lights decorations can be seen until Jan. 9.