RIVERSIDE (CBS) — More than three-and-a-half million Christmas lights will be switched on Friday night to mark the beginning of downtown Riverside’s 18th annual Festival of Lights.

The ceremony is set for 6 p.m. outside the Mission Hotel & Spa, after a celebration that will include musical entertainment and a fireworks extravaganza.

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The festival has been recognized as one of the most impressive holiday light displays in the country.

Christmas lights illuminate the historic hotel as well as buildings lining the Main Street pedestrian mall. More than 400 animated figures, including elves, toy soldiers, nutcrackers and angels, are perched on the hotel’s ledges and all around its perimeter for visitors’ amusement.

The city of Riverside appropriated $389,000 for this year’s festival.

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The money helped pay for a 45- by 90-foot ice skating rink on Main Street, between Mission Inn and University avenues, as well as lights and special events on the mall.

Riverside’s Dickens’ Carolers make the rounds during the month-long festival, singing traditional Christmas favorites. There will also be horse-driven sleigh rides, a Santa’s workshop where kids can have their pictures taken with Old Saint Nicholas and an assortment of vendors selling food and crafts, according to organizers.

The Riverside Metropolitan Museum is adding to the festival’s fun fare with a Starfleet simulator ride, a feature of the museum’s current showcase — “Star Trek The Exhibit: Where Science Meets Science Fiction.” The simulator ride is located at the corner of Main Street and University Avenue, near the skating rink, and costs $3 per person.

Last year’s festival attracted some 200,000 visitors, organizers said. This year’s festival wraps up Jan. 2.

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