The Historic Mission Inn Hotel & Spa has long been the centerpiece of Riverside’s annual Festival of Lights.
This special holiday treat transforms the downtown area into a winter wonderland. Its much awaited “Switch-On Ceremony” starts at noon Nov. 28 with activities followed by the turning on of the lights at 5:30 p.m. by Duane and Kelly Roberts, owners of The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa.
The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights is an annual gift to the community from the Roberts, who saved the historic landmark from destruction in 1992. This year mark’s the festival’s 22nd year and attracts more than 250,000 visitors.
The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights is a celebration of the reopening and restoration of the famed historic landmark.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPERIENCE
• More than 4 million sparkling lights twinkle under the stars.
• The world’s largest man-made mistletoe.
• Horse drawn carriages carry riders through the streets.
• An outdoor ice skating rink invites families to play.
• Vendors offer food and drink, live music fills the air, and a visit from Santa Claus.
Festival of Lights is free to the public.
Palm Springs Life spoke with Duane Roberts on the event’s legacy.
What was your "inspiration" to begin what is now a tradition and much anticipated event?
“The idea of Festival of Lights originally came from my childhood where each Christmas, my family and I would visit the various neighborhoods in Riverside that were lit up for the holidays. A few years after the first Festival of Lights at The Mission Inn, which featured just 250,000 lights and 50 animated characters, I visited Sendai, Riverside’s sister city in Japan. Their Starlight Pageant is quite different from The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights. They have a parade and a beautiful street with trees decorated in lights. That inspired me to make Festival of Lights the biggest of its kind in the nation and put Riverside on the map. Festival of Lights at The Mission Inn is a way for me to give back to the place where I grew up – an opportunity to bring my childhood love of Christmas to the Riverside community.”
How did the Mission Inn's holiday lights become the catalyst for downtown Riverside's community event? What is it that makesthe event so special?
“The Mission Inn’s Festival of Lights is a celebration of the reopening and restoration of our famed historic landmark and a way we give back to the community. It’s become a Southern California tradition, a celebration that brings the community closer every year and an activity that families can enjoy together without spending money – an experience like Disneyland but without the long lines and having to pay for tickets. Where some cities and governments are cutting back, Festival of Lights gets bigger and bigger every year with more lights, more animated figures and more holiday cheer. Kelly and I are very proud of what we’re doing, and the joy it brings to the children.”
You speak each year at the official "lighting ceremony." What message would you like to bring to attendees?
“It’s one of joy, happiness and community. Everyone deserves a little happiness and joy during the holidays, and that is why Kelly and I feel it’s important to continue Festival of Lights. It’s about the children and it keeps the holiday spirit alive. The Mission Inn is a place to celebrate traditions – a wedding in our St. Francis of Assisi Chapel, an anniversary dinner at Duane’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, and Festival of Lights as a celebration of community, family and the magic of Christmas. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the community for celebrating with us year after year. “
The Mission Inn Hotel & Spa's 22nd Annual Festival begins Nov. 28 at sunset and continues through Jan. 6, 2015. Visit www.riversideca.gov/fol/ for more information or www.missioninn.com for The Mission Inn .