Mission Inn's Festival of Lights

It's a Riverside tradition that's as twinkly as all get-out.

3.6 MILLION LIGHTS: It's impossible not to grumble, good-heartedly, about the tangled strings of lights when you first pull them out of the box after another year has gone by. You wrapped them in just the right way last early January, you're sure of it, so how they got to be in a giant knot is anyone's guess. Now imagine unknotting and unrolling and hanging up over 3,600,000 lights. This isn't simply a one-person job done over the first Saturday in December; it takes a team, and, as you might guess, the structure the bulbs are covering has to be quite large indeed. And it is: The Mission Inn, in Riverside. If you've been there, or even seen photos, you know there are at least a dozen castles around the world that wished they looked as noble or had the elegant towers of the Inland Empire's most well-known hotel. So when Christmas comes along, and the towers and turrets go twinkly, the effect is rather storybook.

ENTER THE STORYBOOK: The grand Switch On ceremony -- The Mission Inn's 20th -- always happens the Friday after Thanksgiving, as it will this year. (So that's Nov. 23.) Beyond the lights -- and it is a bit hard to look beyond, give their vast numbers -- there are dozens of animated figures dotting the hotel. It took ten weeks and thirty people to put the whole holiday look together, which has a new capper this year: the world's largest mistletoe. It's 12-feet by 8-feet, so, yep, that's a biggin'. If you can't make the Switch On event, the lights are on every night throughout the Christmas season. The Festival of Lights runs about six weeks in all, so anybody who wants to catch it can. Over a quarter of a million people visited the hotel during the run last year. We have a feeling that if you string up a few lights at home, you kind of want to see what that looks like multiplied by a million or so.

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