Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade Floats Theme Contest

April 15, 2021 Updated: April 15, 2021

The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade returns to Newport Harbor this December, and organizers are asking the public for help creating a theme for the historic holiday tradition.

“After this past year, we are ready for some good news,” Steve Rosansky, president of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, told The Epoch Times.

Each year, more than 100 decorated vessels make up the parade that travels a 14-mile parade route around Newport Harbor, passing by waterfront restaurants, businesses, hotels, and private residences.

Last year’s official event was canceled by the chamber due to COVID-19 shutdowns. This year’s event will take place over five nights from Dec. 15 to 19.

The event also extends on land with its concurrent “Ring of Lights” decorating contest that encourages residents and business owners to deck out their homes and businesses in conjunction with the parade.

Humble Beginnings

Over the past 113 years, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has become an internationally recognized event, with The New York Times even referring to it in its Cheer Around the Country top picks.

But the event had humble beginnings. According to the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, it all began more than a century ago, when John Scarpa, an obscure Italian gondolier, joined with Joseph Beek, developer of Beacon Bay, the Balboa Ferry Line, and a principal force in the early development of Balboa Island to establish what was then called the Tournament of Lights.

In 1907, Scarpa began the tradition of lighting boats by taking a group of visitors from Pasadena across the bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. The next year, the first lighted boat parade took place when Scarpa and his fellow small-boat operators put together a loosely organized affair.

By 1913, the parade was being called the Illuminated Water Parade, and prizes were given to participants for best decorated and lighted vessels. Held in the summertime back then, by 1915 the parade had grown to include more than 40 launches, canoes, and rowboats. The event included a derelict boat hull set ablaze, a “Battle of Fireworks” between two launches, and the explosion of two underwater mines witnessed by thousands of visitors.

With the eruption of World War I, the parade was canceled for five years, until 1919, when Joseph Beek came up with an idea to have children decorate floats that were towed around the harbor, patterned after those seen in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade.

With the exception of a few years during World War II, the Tournament of Lights was held every summer from 1919 through 1949. It morphed into a new Christmas holiday tradition when city employees outfitted a barge with a large lighted Christmas tree, which was towed around the harbor while passengers sang carols to residents onshore.

In later years, the Beek family provided a ferryboat for the floating Christmas tree celebration and gradually other lighted boats fell in line behind it, starting a new tradition which is today’s Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

To submit a theme, visit christmasboatparade.com by June 1. Once the Boat Parade Committee selects the top five themes, community members will be encouraged to vote for their favorite themes, with a winner to be announced shortly thereafter.