Christmas tree lights. Photo by Colleen Park.
Christmas tree lights. Photo by Colleen Park.

Crews were applying the finishing touches Tuesday around the Mission Inn Hotel & Spa in preparation for the Inland Empire’s signature holiday event — the “Festival of Lights” — which turns downtown Riverside into a brilliantly illuminated kingdom of Christmas-oriented entertainment.

The 25th annual festival will get underway at 4:45 p.m. Friday when Mission Inn owner and festival founder Duane Roberts, joined by the mayor and other officials, will throw the switch on more than five million Christmas lights, followed by a fireworks extravaganza and Christmas music.

The city is anticipating up to 75,000 people will flood the Main Street pedestrian mall to take part in the affair.

Crews began working round-the-clock shifts in late August, readying the hotel for the roughly six-week celebration that will conclude just before daybreak on Jan. 7.

The festival began in 1992, after Roberts and his wife, Kelly, took over the Mission Inn.

Each fest opens with a pyrotechnics spectacular that illuminates the entire Main Street 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 line the way outside and into the hotel, where visitors also encounter a mistletoe measuring 12-by-8 feet.

Nightly horse-drawn carriage rides are planned, along with performances by the celebrated Dickens carolers.

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be fixtures in the area fronting the castle- like inn. Other attractions at this year’s festival will include a Ferris wheel, a 36-animal “Colorful Carousel,” live musical entertainment and other acts on specially constructed stages between Mission Inn and University avenues, trackless train rides and a variety of activities for children, according to organizers.

The city complements the festival with light displays on downtown streets.

USA Tuesday named the Festival of Lights “America’s Best Holiday Festival of 2015” as part of the paper’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Contest.

The Mission Inn and festival will be represented in Riverside’s float at the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena — the city’s first appearance in the world-renowned event since 1959.

About 500,000 visitors are expected over the duration of the fest’s quarter-century celebration, organizers said.

–City News Service

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