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Creating onboard holiday traditions

Have you spent the holidays on board your boat?

While Arv and I had spent an occasional New Year’s Eve and more Thanksgivings on board, we had never made the leap to celebrating the full December holidays on the water until recent years.

The culprit? Not the weather, but instead the shifting of all the Christmas paraphernalia (tree, decorations, gifts, giftwrap, etc.) to the boat. Chiefly, in retrospect, I think it was the tree.

I’ve loved Christmas trees since I was a little kid. I insisted on spending at least one night sleeping under our fragrant pine tree, which my father and I harvested from the woods down the road. My emotional attachment to a fresh tree was such I swore I would never, EVER, succumb to a fake Christmas tree. Gradually the time required to string and remove lights overcame my resistance.

Buying a pre-lit artificial tree for our home paved the way to moving our holidays onboard. For the boat, we purchased a second smaller tree sized to sit atop a countertop in our salon. I culled decorations and selected a trove of ornaments appropriately scaled to our tree. All had to be unbreakable because our cats enjoy batting them around – and it’s important our cats also enjoy “Catmas” full of toys and crinkly paper.

holiday aboard your boat

We discovered numerous options for maritime holiday décor at specialty shops, as well as at the malls, with choices suitable for whatever holiday you celebrate, including Catmas or Dogmas.

For large family holiday gatherings, dinners become simpler if you opt to dine out and avoid frustrating meal preparation in restricted spaces. Numerous restaurants, especially hotel restaurants, are open on Christmas and New Year’s, offering special menus for each holiday occasion, with festive decorations. Why not travel by dinghy if the weather allows?

If you still want to serve a hot meal on board but have limited facilities, order a fully prepared feast from one of the many grocery and specialty stores offering holiday dinners. When picking up your meal take along towel-lined insulated bags or coolers. Load your hot food into the bags and cover everything with more towels, which should keep everything warm for several hours if properly wrapped.

Most marinas are quiet in December, meaning your boat can serve as a relaxing retreat from a fast-paced holiday season and reinvigorating hub for exploring the surrounding region or investigating unexpected treasures.

We’ve recently developed new traditions centered on activities near our marina. While we cherish lighted boat parades, we’ve discovered new pleasures in viewing legendary hotels and resorts’ holiday décor, as well as touring nearby neighborhoods, such as Point Loma’s Garrison Street, where residents decorate their homes and share them with the community. Such specially-lit streets are often highlighted in local media.

Each year we also research regional holiday celebrations and enjoyed taking in Huntington Harbor’s holiday lights cruises indulging in smaller community events.

We’ve made holiday excursions to LACMA and Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles as well as art galleries in Laguna Beach and Balboa Park in San Diego.

Coastal California’s abundant historic and cultural resources (including museums, zoos, missions, churches, parks and public gardens) all dress up for the holidays and offer seasonal events such as home tours, craft fairs, caroling concerts, puppet shows, plus special performances featuring theatre groups, and choral and musical ensembles. Look for listings in local publications, websites or at tourist offices.

Whether you’re an empty nester or you enjoy spending holidays surrounded by friends and family, you too can uncover new ways of experiencing the holiday season on board.

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