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December Nights holiday festival begins

The 31st annual “December Nights’’ holiday festival begins Friday in Balboa Park, with more than 300,000 people expected to take part in the two-day event.

The festival features theatrical and musical entertainment, food, more than 25,000 holiday lights, attractions, a huge tree, visits with Santa Claus and, for the first time, a full-size ice skating rink.

Balboa Park’s museums will be free, and there will be a “My Ancestors Village’’ exhibit on traditional Native American culture and holiday traditions from more than 30 countries at the “International Cottage Christmas Festival.’'

The largest free community festival in San Diego runs from 5 to 10 p.m. today and noon to 10 p.m. Saturday.

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Attendees are encouraged to use free off-site shuttles from Petco Park, the San Diego County Administration Building and City College, or public transit, to avoid the crowds.