The Riverside Festival of Lights is typically a holiday event during which people gather in downtown Riverside to watch the Mission Inn lights get switched on. This particular event usually draws around 75,000 people to come watch the ceremony, as well as to enjoy the food stands and other attractions. The Festival of Lights started back in 1993 with a small ceremony and few lights, now the inn is lit with over 4,000,000 lights which is about 250 times more than what was first put up. However this year because of COVID-19 the large numbers of people who have shown up in recent years are unable to gather in one place. Instead of cancelling the event entirely many adjustments are being made in order to keep it running. Crowds need to be limited, and everyone needs to socially distance themselves from others and wear a mask.
Everything at the festival is socially distanced in order to comply with California’s guidelines, and there are extra safety protocols put in place. As the switching on ceremony is always the day that draws the most people, the ceremony did not happen this year as usual to reduce crowd size. And in order to follow the Riverside County guidelines for the purple tier, people will not be allowed inside the Mission Inn to see the usual lights. However the guests who are staying inside the inn will be able to experience the lights and other attractions inside the inn such as a life sized gingerbread house and the 19 foot tall Christmas tree in the hotel’s lobby. The Festival of Lights began on November 27, 2020, the Friday following Thanksgiving and will end on December 31, 2021.
“With the safety implications of COVID-19 in mind, many changes are coming in 2020. Changes to the lighting ceremony, decorations and activities are designed to reduce the number of crowds while providing some level of holiday spirit… Essentially, the Festival of Lights as you know it is taking a hiatus for 2020,” said Mission Inn Foundations Executive Director Jarod Hoogland.
This year there will not be any vendors as there have been in previous years and the switch on ceremony did not take place as previously stated. In addition to this, there will not be any programs as there usually are. This year the City Council voted to lower the budget of how much they would usually spend on the festival. This reduced the amount of decorations that would usually be put up, and removed the fireworks and other attractions.
“Safety is at the top of everyone’s mind, and while the 2020 Festival of Lights will be much smaller, it is best for everyone to continue to socially distance, wear facial coverings and be vigilant against spreading COVID-19.” said Hoogland.
Although the festival is going to look remarkably different from previous years everyone who chooses to come enjoy the lights, will still be able to celebrate the holidays safely. In addition to this the Riverside Festival of Lights has been a tradition for 27 years now.
“I think the Festival of Lights…really shows how an event can bring not only community but families together to celebrate the holidays. Every year it is a tradition to go to the Festival of Lights and my family members come from Los Angeles to go with us. This year it would be really nice to at least drive by and get a cup of hot cocoa from Coffee Bean downtown.” said sophomore Kaylie Lopez.
Even though everyone will need to socially distance themselves from each other and many won’t be able to see the lights inside the inn, the lights on Main Street and in front of the Mission Inn are still the same.
“I think the Festival of Lights will still be enjoyable even though it is going to be socially distanced because it is a time to celebrate the holidays…it will be nice to see this tradition to take place during the pandemic. Even just passing the lights or seeing them will feel like we have some kind of normal back,” said Lopez.
Many things about the festival will be different this year, however the purpose of spreading holiday cheer is still the same.