Huntington Harbour boat parade lone in-harbor survivor of pandemic

As of the time this paper went to press, Huntington Harbour, was the only harbor in Southern California planning to hold their holiday boat parade. Villa Park Dry Land Boat Parade was also set to be held.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA—A decades old tradition for ringing in the holiday season in many Southern California harbors will take a hiatus this year. Holiday boat parades have been canceled in many harbors due to Covid-19 and related restrictions, with Huntington Harbour the only one still planning to move forward with their annual event.

Lara Anderson, Public Relations Chair for the Huntington Harbour Parade, said they have been granted permits for the parade to held Dec. 12 and 13 and plan to move forward “rain, shine or pandemic.”

“We’re trying to manage it and keep the tradition going as best we can this year,” Anderson said.

The harbor is much smaller than its neighbors and is mostly residential. Anderson said their event is not about bringing people to the harbor and more about thanking the residential community for decorating their home for their major fundraiser, the Cruise of Lights. The Cruise of Lights offers narrated boat tours to view lights and animated displays on homes, docks, decks and boats to raise funds for Youth Music Programs for the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. The Cruise of Lights will not be held this year due to Covid-19 related restrictions.

“We’re doing the parade regardless, even though we can’t have our fundraiser, as a gesture of good will to the community,” Anderson said.

With limited public watching areas, Anderson said they are really discouraging people from outside the area from coming to see the parade.

“We are not set up for large crowds, there’s not huge areas where people can watch the parade,” Anderson said. “The safest place to see the parade is to be in the parade on your own boat.”

With Covid-19 restrictions in place for gatherings, she said she is hoping homeowners who would usually host watch parties at their homes will participate in the parade instead. She herself typically hosts a big Christmas party at her house but entered the parade instead this year.

“We’re going to be in the boat parade for the first time,” Anderson said. “I really hope we get more people on their boats and joining us this year.”

Anderson said they have 28 boats signed up and are hoping to get at least 40. There is no fee to enter for non-commercial boats. For more information or to enter a boat in the Huntington Harbour Boat Parade visit hhboatparade.org.

With all Southern California counties in Tier 1 (as of the time this paper went to press), the lowest ranking in Governor Gavin Newsome’s four-tier coronavirus tracking and guideline system for re-opening, many harbors have had to rethink their plans.

For larger harbors, such as San Diego, the challenge of managing large crowds was too much to overcome. The San Diego Bay Parade of Lights typically brings more than 100,000 San Diego residents and visitors to the shores of the bay each year. The parade committee ultimately decided to cancel the event, making it the first time in the past 48 years it won’t be held due to something besides weather.

“We’re very disappointed” San Diego Bay Parade Chairman Larry Baumann said. “In order to get the permits to do this we had to somehow mitigate crowds on the shoreline and there was just no way to guarantee that could be done.”

Baumann said they are working on putting together a “best of” video featuring highlights from parades over the past 20 years for people to watch at home.

In addition to spreading holiday cheer, the holiday boat parades in many harbors, including San Diego, are a major economic driver for local harbor businesses. Baumann said one of the reasons the parade was held on a Sunday night was to stimulate business during a typically quiet time.

“A lot of businesses were anticipating a little bit of a tick up in volume with the parade,” Baumann said.

Dana Point Harbor and Newport Beach Harbor had been planning to continue on with their parades but news of their cancelations came just a few weeks before the events.

“The Parade has a century long tradition of being Newport Beach’s ‘Christmas Card to the World,’” Parade Co-Chair Larry Smith said in a released statement. “This year, our message must clearly reflect the safety and wellbeing of all concerned. To all our partners, participants and supporters of this rich holiday tradition, we hope you will agree.”

The Rings of Lights, Newport Beach’s home decorating contest, will still go forward. Homes interesting in participating can register at christmasboatparade.com/ring-of-lights-entry-form/.

Dana Point Harbor Partners said they made the difficult decision because they felt the new guidelines and restrictions would make it too challenging to ensure safety of large groups of visitors the parade attracts to the harbor.

“We are hopeful our boaters will still decorate their vessels and keep a festive tone within the harbor,” said Ralph Grippo, Principal at Bellwether Financial Group, which is part of Dana Point Harbor Partners and in charge of guiding marina operations, in an email.

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