The Inland Empire’s signature holiday event — the “Festival of Lights” — will conclude Sunday evening in downtown Riverside.
The 28th annual fest got underway on Nov. 29 when Mission Inn owner and festival founder Duane Roberts, joined by Mayor Rusty Bailey and other officials, flipped on more than five million Christmas lights during a ceremony attended by thousands, despite rainy weather, at the intersection of Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street.
The economic impact of this year’s roughly six-week celebration was anticipated to range into the millions, though no figures have been released yet.
The festival began in 1992, after Roberts and his wife, Kelly, took over the Mission Inn.
Each event opens with a pyrotechnics spectacular that brightens the entire Main Street pedestrian plaza. Afterward, the century-old inn is bathed in multi-colored hues, with some 400 animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, visible on banisters, balconies and ledges.
Towering Christmas trees lined the way outside and into the hotel, where visitors also encountered a mistletoe measuring 12-by-8 feet.
Nightly horse-drawn carriage rides were held, along with performances by the celebrated Dickens Carolers. New this year was daily live musical entertainment on the breezeway fronting City Hall.
There was only one publicized mishap when several carriage horses got loose and were injured on city streets. No bystanders were hurt.
USA Sunday named the Festival of Lights “America’s Best Holiday Festival of 2015” as part of the paper’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Contest.
About 750,000 visitors were expected over the duration of the fest, which will officially conclude at daybreak Monday.