RIVERSIDE, Calif. - The famed "Festival of Lights" in downtown Riverside will be drastically scaled-down this year because of the coronavirus pandemic and won't feature the traditional switch-on ceremony.
The nightly festival, which usually begins the day after Thanksgiving, features the century-old Mission Inn Hotel & Spa bathed in multi-colored hues, with some 400 animated characters, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, visible on banisters, balconies and ledges.
The dazzling display is normally made up of about 5.5 million lights,but this year the number of lights will only be a third to half as many assigned last year, Shannon Walters, the Mission Inn's vice president of sales and marketing told The Press-Enterprise.
"It's not the same festival that they experienced in years prior," she said.
Also missing will be the vendors, attractions and programming that the 750,000 people who attend the festival are accustomed to.
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 recent years.
"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 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. But the reduced funding means there will not be carnival rides, an ice skating rink or children's entertainment, such as bounce houses, at this year's festival.
The festival -- in its 28th year -- is still scheduled to run between Nov. 27 and Jan. 6, but Mission Inn officials are urging attendees to wear face-coverings and observe social distancing.
"Pending any changes due to COVID-19 guidelines, the public will not be permitted to walk down the main walkways this year to avoid crowds of any size," the hotel posted on its website.
Only hotel guests and those with restaurant reservations will be allowed inside the Inn. In the past, local elected officials gathered for a pyrotechnics extravaganza at Mission Inn Avenue and Orange Street, marking the start of the festival. The usual turnout for the fireworks was 75,000 people.
Walters said that this year lights will be switched on each day while the sun is still out to avoid onlookers from gathering.
As the holidays approach, COVID-19 cases are soaring across California, with every county in the Southland in the purple tier, the most-restrictive level in the state's reopening framework.
On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that counties in the purple tier will be subject to a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, begging last Saturday and running through Dec. 21.