Festival of lights kicks off holiday season

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By Ana Contreras / Staff Writer

Celebrate the holidays (Allison Perez / Photo Editor)

By Ana Contreras / Staff Writer

It’s that time of the year again. It’s time to get out the Christmas tree, the house lights, and start building some gingerbread houses with the kids. And for the last 19 years, Riverside’s Mission Inn added to these long standing traditions with its Festival of Lights.

The holiday spectacle once again illuminated the historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa with $3.5 million worth of light bulbs and spectacular fireworks.

The annual festival began the day after Thanksgiving, with a celebratory lighting ceremony featuring a full fireworks display.

Festival of Lights hosts one of the largest collections of lights in the nation.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Riverside to watch the opening ceremony and what better way to kick off the holiday season after being stuffed with turkey and mashed potatoes?

“We are delighted to bring the Festival of Lights back,” said Mission Inn owner Duane Roberts.

“The awe and excitement in the community are the reason we have made this event into such a long-running annual tradition,” he said.

“It brings great joy to all that experience the Festival of Lights, which is the true meaning of the holiday spirit.”

Thousands of visitors cheered as the switch-on ceremony and fireworks show kicked off the holiday season of Riverside’s Festival of Lights.

 Riverside provides a chance to experience the most dazzling holiday spectacle in southern California.  

Last year’s festival drew more than 250,000 visitors and this year looks like it may match that.

It also features holiday-themed vendors every night, offering specialty food and gift items.

Visitors can find a variety of options for dining and unique shopping, as always at the Mission Inn, but during the holidays, it is all themed to bring out the joy of the season.

Many family-friendly activities take place during the festival as well such as games, ice skating and a visit with Santa Claus.

Riverside Festival of Lights allows everyone no matter what age to enjoy the magic of the holidays.

But the main attraction of the event is definitely the Mission Inn itself.

Embellished with sparkling lights and holiday trimmings, the building lights up the night with more things to see with every look.

More than 400 characters, including tinkering elves, angels, toy soldiers, carolers, large nutcrackers, and animals adorn the inn, and though they can be a bit creepy, they are beautifully dressed and artistically displayed.

Many animated characters can be seen caroling on the roof and balconies of the hotel.

It is hard to miss Santa climbing the chimney on the roof as well.

The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa features an elaborately decorated Christmas tree, that would make anyone’s home tree look dwarfed.

The magic continues at an outdoor ice skating rink, located on Main Street Riverside between University and Mission Inn Ave.

With free holiday entertainment, carriage rides, and ice skating, this is a good family event.

The festival has been recognized as one of the most impressive holiday light displays in the country.

The Festival of Lights Committee, consisting of community volunteers and local businesses, put in many long hours to coordinate the Ceremony.

The Festival of Lights Switch-On Ceremony launched six weeks of outdoor winter wonderland festivities for all to enjoy.

Viewing the lights and festivities are just one part of holidays at The Mission Inn.

“Really nice place especially during Christmas time,” said Ji O, a community member attending the festival.

“They decorate the hotel with lights and even the outside (is a) nice place to walk around with a special someone across a street from the hotel during winter,” O said.

 “They have outdoor ice skating area and cool antique place to look around,” O said.  

Attendee Monica Espy said that the event offered a release from everyday life.

“This weekend is our first time at this amazing landmark hotel.  This is a great place to reward yourself with a much needed break,” Espy said.

 “I cannot believe that this is just located in Riverside, few minutes from Los Angeles, and I felt that during my stay this little town is not even in California,” she said.

The event and all its festivities are scheduled to continue through Jan. 8, 2012 and it not an event people will want to miss.

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