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San Diego's holiday event, Balboa Park December Nights, returns for two days

The 45th annual December Nights festival will begin in Balboa Park this afternoon, transforming the park into a winter wonderland with more than 1,000 performers on four stages, various activities throughout the park and more than 120 food and retail vendors.

The event will run Friday from 3 to 11 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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Some museums will offer complimentary evening admission and other features include the Gator by the Bay stage and dance floor, traditional International Spirits Garden and a new Plaza de Panama beer and cocktail garden.

"Generations of San Diegans have made December Nights part of their annual holiday plans, and we're thrilled to welcome them back this year," Mayor Todd Gloria said. "After two years of a scaled-down version during the pandemic, we are so thankful to have December Nights back in its traditional form. I'm looking forward to what I think of as the official kickoff of the holiday season in our city."

The festival is the city's largest free event and has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors to Balboa Park over the past four decades. Gloria and Councilman Stephen Whitburn will kick off the event by lighting the tree at the Spreckels Organ Pavilion at 6 p.m. on Friday.

San Diego Gas & Electric is a sponsor of December Nights, and this year is teaming up with PATH San Diego to encourage visitors to donate socks at the SDG&E booth during the event. Toyota will supporting the initiative and will have its Sienna Sleigh next to the 91X booth for sock donations. Sock drive organizers hope to beat the Guinness World Record set by the city of Fresno last year with 80,000 socks.

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"We are excited to bring a new charitable initiative to this year's December Nights — a sock drive to benefit unsheltered San Diegans," said Kazeem Omidiji, director of community relations at SDG&E. "We encourage everyone going to December Nights to bring a pair of new socks to donate to our nonprofit partner, PATH San Diego. The sock drive, combined with a charitable grant from SDG&E, will support PATH in its efforts to house and provide comfort to unsheltered San Diegans this holiday season."

Another new highlight at December Nights is the Family Zone, which will include safe activities for young kids including hula hoop contests, bean bag toss, ornament making and more. A private space is also available for nursing mothers.

The Family Zone features a mural creation opportunity by the Comic-Con Museum and a solar system bracelet making opportunity by San Diego Air and Space Museum.

"There will be something for everyone," said Natasha Collura, executive director for the city's Special Events and Filming Office. "We are so grateful for our corporate sponsors, city staff and Balboa Park organizations and institutions for joining us in one of San Diego's biggest and most festive events and to welcome everyone back to December Nights."

According to the city, the San Diego Association of Governments will provide free shuttle rides for people wanting to get to the park from off-site locations downtown. Free parking is available at City College and the San Diego Zoo. In addition, there will be pre-paid parking options.