The “Festival of Lights” will return to downtown Riverside Friday and remain for the duration of the Christmas season, but with much less luster than in previous years.
“The Festival of Lights is a much-loved Riverside tradition,” Mayor Rusty Bailey said when officials decided in the summer to restrict activities. “I look forward to a time when we can gather together again as a community to celebrate the holidays in this special way, but we have to make responsible decisions, even when they are difficult.”
The Riverside City Council voted in August to limit city funding for the six-week event to $60,000. It has generally received between $378,000 and $825,000 in previous years.
Mission Inn Hotel & Spa owner Duane Roberts began the Festival of Lights in 1992, and he acknowledged the need to scale down the affair this year to prevent large crowds and observe other precautions stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
An official switch-on ceremony will not take place.
“The lower-cost model for the 2020 festival includes some holiday decor in the area around the Mission Inn, including holiday-themed selfie stations, three holiday trees, large ornaments, a sleigh, bows and garland on lights and bridges, and an assortment of holiday-themed light displays, in addition to the lights that are placed on the Mission Inn,” according to a city statement.
No carriage rides or sing-alongs are in the works, nor will there be any vendors lining the Main Street pedestrian mall. Only twinkling lights.
The nightly fest, which traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, features the century-old inn bathed in multi-colored hues, with some 400 animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, visible on banisters, balconies and ledges.
An estimated 750,000 people visited over the duration of last year’s festival, which concluded on Dec. 31.