Newport Beach Holds ‘Unofficial’ Christmas Boat Parade

December 18, 2020 Updated: December 20, 2020

Nearly 160 vessels, many bathed in decorative lights, participated in the first of three nights of the “Official Unofficial” Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade on Dec. 17, as boat owners were determined to continue the 112-year annual tradition despite a cancellation notice from the city’s chamber of commerce due to COVID-19.

Parade organizers told The Epoch Times that carrying on the tradition and making sure the community had something to celebrate took precedence over last month’s cancellation by the Newport Beach, California, Chamber of Commerce.

“We just have been working together fiercely for the past couple of weeks to get this organized and to make it safe,” Caroline Wetherington, one of the parade’s co-organizers, told The Epoch Times.

Wetherington, who formed the group We the People after learning about the cancellation, said her group’s theme for the parade is “Let Freedom Ring.”

“We wanted the parade to go on this year because we really need something to look forward to … a little bit of joy [and] happiness in our lives,” she said. “This is such a wonderful tradition.”

Epoch Times Photo
The Ocean Explorer joins the unofficial Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade in Newport Beach, Calif., on Dec. 17, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Epoch Times Photo
Caroline Wetherington, co-organizer of the unofficial Newport Harbor Christmas Boat Parade, stands in front of her boat in Newport Beach, Calif., on Dec. 17, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

At least two groups of Newport Beach boat owners—many of whom had previously participated in the annual gathering—joined together to make sure this year’s parade took place safely and without a hitch.

Parade co-organizer John, who preferred not to provide his surname, told The Epoch Times that the parade is important to the city both financially and emotionally.

“Everybody had a really, really rough year, and removing the Christmas parade, a 100-plus-year tradition, just added to that anxiety,” John said. “I’ve talked to a lot of neighbors, community members, and a lot of the boating community, and they were devastated.”

John said the boating community has been fortunate because boaters have not been given as many COVID-19 restrictions as the general population and businesses in California. As a result, many of the boaters participating in the parade simply wanted to give back to the community.

“We weren’t thinking about ourselves. We weren’t thinking about sticking it to the man,” he said.

“Besides some closures on Catalina, we weren’t really impacted. Everything we tried to do was very community-focused. I think it was time for us to give some joy back to the community.”

Much like entering a neighborhood where each house tops the next with its Christmas light display, the parade gives boat owners a chance to show off their lights while cruising the harbor and around Balboa Island, with music blaring and passengers reveling, as people watch from land.

“I loved what I saw last night. I’ve actually never seen so many people in front of their houses,” said John. “It was almost like watching the community say, ‘Thank you for doing this.’”

The last night of the parade is scheduled to take place on Dec. 19 beginning at 6:30 p.m. To watch a livestream of the event visit: