In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and a second state stay-at-home order, the annual tradition of the Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade lives on starting tonight through Dec. 19. As the end of 2020 is nearing, the people of Newport Beach have come together to keep a 112-year tradition going, motivated by providing some much-needed holiday spirit.
This year will be different, considering state guidelines recommend staying at home and only leaving for essential activity. Masks are encouraged to be worn on boats, but that does not mean passengers are prohibited from having a good time. The parade will also be three days instead of the usual five, but this has given more volunteers the opportunity to commit to the parade.
The Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade is an outdoor event where boats decorated with holiday lights tour around Balboa Island to share some holiday spirit. Previously, the Chamber of Commerce was responsible for putting together the parade. However, because it could be held liable for going against the state’s COVID-19 guidelines, it had to withdraw from their leading role this year.
This year it is up to the people to put it together, and they have. Nine locals who are passionate about the parade have come together and volunteered their time into putting it on for the community. Spokesperson and organizer Caroline Wetherington said the harbor is a federal waterway and no permit is required to have the event. They are also not charging boats that want to participate this year, which has made it even easier for people to sign up. “Currently we have about 50 boats signed up, but we anticipate having about 200 hundred in the parade,” said Wetherington, which is a similar turnout to previous years.
The volunteers putting on the parade this year decided to call their group “We the People” because this year's event is run by local boat owners for the benefit of the community. This year’s theme for the boat parade is “Let Freedom Ring.”
“I feel [the theme] is appropriate for the times,” Wetherington said. “There are a lot of people who feel like our freedoms are being usurped by our government, and one of those freedoms is the freedom to boat.”
One participant, and the winner of last year’s parade, Les Davidson spends four weeks decorating his boat. This year he has used over one hundred thousand lights. His boat’s theme is “Santa’s Toy Land” with all the classic Christmas toys such as a nutcracker, rocking horse, toy soldiers and even Santa coming out of a chimney. He also bought Christmas masks for his passengers to wear on the boat.
“It is so great to be a part of bringing something back that I think is long overdue, and that is some excitement and some fun. I am so driven by the fact that people are lonely for some good time[s],” he said “It isn’t all about the boat either. When you're on the boat and you look onshore, we play Christmas music, and they can hear it. They start dancing and smiling; you feel so much a part of the community. It is hard to put it into words.”
This event is highly valued by the community and often attracts many from far and wide. The volunteers this year have found a way to livestream the parade on their Facebook page and their webpage in order to include those who feel more comfortable at home.
“Especially this year, people need something to look forward to,” Wetherington said. “It is a tradition we could not let go of.”