Riverside lights up for Christmas

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Sarah O'Keefe--Attendees of the Festival of Lights watch the Riverside skies explode with color during this annual event.

The day after Thanksgiving is often spent shopping at insane hours and fighting crowds. A calmer way in which people bring in the Christmas season is by attending the Festival of Lights.

As of 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26, the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa in Riverside, Calif. started celebrating by turning on approximately 3.5 million lights.

“I always liked the downtown area of Riverside but the lights bring it to life. They were really beautiful,” Marti Barsoom, junior, said.

For the past 18 years the hotel has been “lighting up the season” with an elaborate display of festive decorations that range from simple white lights to life size robotic carolers.

The “Switch-On Ceremony,” as it is known, was attended by 48,000 people this year.

Crowds lined up along Mission Ave. well in advance and benches were taken quickly.

People filled the streets and jostled back and forth in the cold while filtering through the various shops and booths that sprung up on the sidewalks for this event.

The streets around downtown were closed for the event, which officially began at 5:30 p.m. with a performance from the Riverside City College Marching Tigers. The band opened the night with a holiday medley and moved on to Lady Gaga’s “Pokerface.”

The performance, along with remarks from Mayor Ronald Loveridge and Duane Roberts, the “Keeper of the Inn,” was broadcast via live feed on University and Fifth Ave.

Large screens allowed for the entire crowd to see Riverside elementary school students help Santa flip the switch that turned the Mission Inn into a glowing spectacle. These students achieved this opportunity as a result of winning the Mission Inn Coloring Contest.

“I had been to the Mission Inn a few times but this was the first time I’d seen it lit up with Christmas lights,” freshman Erin Dalan said.

Throughout the night of the Switch-On ceremony the large crowd milled throughout the antique and gift shops of downtown. With window displays that ranged from simple to the elaborate, visitors were entirely surrounded by holiday spirit. Area stores and restaurants have extended their operating hours to 8 and 9 p.m. in response to the nightly excitement of the Festival of Lights.

Another popular attraction back for the Festival of Lights is the outdoor ice skating rink. For $13 an hour, people of all ages can enjoy the full size rink located in the center of downtown, right across from the Mission Inn Galleria.

Decorations will adorn the Mission Inn and downtown Riverside area until just after New Years. Nightly visits from Santa and specialty food booths with kettle corn, hot cocoa and gingerbread will complete the holiday spectacular.