March 30, 2023

Every year, the city of Riverside pulls out all the stops for the annual Festival of Lights, a Christmas event that turns downtown into a winter wonderland of lights and holiday spirit.

From Nov. 25-Jan. 7, the Festival of Lights draws crowds from Riverside and the surrounding Inland Empire area, including California Baptist University.

CBU will have a greater role in this year’s festival, however, as an alumna helps plan this year’s Christmas tradition.

Megan Elder, executive fellow with the City of Riverside’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Department, graduated from CBU in May with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.  She received the position through  the  Career Center’s connection to the Western  Riverside Council of Governments, a non-profit organization for home energy renovation.

The department Elder works for plans most of the city-run events throughout the year, but the Festival of Lights is one of their most high profile.

“When I started my job, they had already started planning and that was back in July,” Elder said. “It’s the biggest project for us so I’ve gained more responsibility in that area.”

The Festival of Lights is one of the most popular events for CBU students. Nathan Coker, senior graphic design major, said the festival is unlike anything he has seen.

“The atmosphere is very friendly and inviting,” Coker said. “There are so many things to do, whether it is looking at lights, eating popcorn or listening to music on the streets. It is a truly memorable experience and I would recommend it to anyone thinking about going.”

Elder’s role in the festival has included picking decorations for the 20-foot Christmas tree and Santa House.

She is also involved in planning the Artisans Collective, a craft fair where local artisans sell 60 percent or more handmade products, that happens each weekend of the festival.

Elder said being a CBU graduate was a “selling point” for her current job. Of the eight people in her division planning the event, four of them have either attended or worked at CBU.  Elder said her time at CBU helped prepare her for her current role in the Riverside event.

“When I was at CBU, I was a resident adviser for two years ,and I kind of feel like the department that I’m in is just the RA’s of the city because they plan events for the city and create community,” Elder said. “That prepared me a lot even with logistics.”

She has gone to the festival before but said she did not realize how much goes into planning it.

“At the end of the day the public isn’t going to know what we did, but it’s all of these tiny little tasks that come together to make this really great thing,” Elder said.

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