The famed “Festival of Lights” has returned to Riverside for the Christmas season for the first time since 2019.

“The Festival of Lights has been a joyous occasion for Riverside families for three decades,” Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson said. “It is gratifying to see that Riversiders will once again be able to gather together for the switch-on ceremony,” which was held Thursday.

Switch-on events were rescinded in November 2020 and November 2021. The 2020 event was prohibited by state regulations on public gatherings because of COVID, and the City Council decided to forgo the 2021 switch-on as a precautionary measure.

The ceremonies often draw up to 75,000 people outside the Mission Inn, where streets are closed and a fireworks extravaganza takes place.

“Riverside families have looked forward to the return of the switch-on ceremony throughout the pandemic, so it is rewarding to see that patience rewarded,” Councilman Ronaldo Fierro said. “Our city is looking forward to another exciting event.”

This will be the fest’s 30th anniversary. Mission Inn Hotel & Spa owner Duane Roberts began the Festival of Lights in 1992.

The nightly event features the century-old inn bathed in multi-colored hues, with hundreds of animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, visible on banisters, balconies and ledges.

Towering Christmas trees traditionally line the way outside and into the hotel, where visitors also encounter a mistletoe measuring 12-by-8 feet.

There will be live musical entertainment, photos with Santa Claus, as well as artisan booths and food vendors up and down the Main Street pedestrian mall.

This year’s activities will run nightly through Dec. 31, though the lights will continue to shine until Jan. 6.

Last year, the council allocated $100,000 for the six-week event. This year, $650,000 has been appropriated, according to city spokesman Phil Pitchford.

Prior to 2020, anywhere from $350,000 to $825,000 was earmarked for festival activities, which netted sizable revenue to the city and vendors.

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