The Origins of The Newport Beach Holiday Boat Parade

NEWPORT BEACH — The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade is not only one of the oldest holiday boat parades in California, it is one of the longest-running Christmas boat parades in the U.S.


The tradition began in 1907, making it nearly 120 years old. The Newport Beach Boat Parade first set sail with John Scarpa, an Italian gondolier, and Joseph Beek, a developer and owner of the Balboa Ferry Line. The tradition began with Scarpa taking a group of visitors from Pasadena across the bay in a gondola decorated with Japanese lanterns. Scarpa and his fellow small boat operators put together a loosely organized event consisting of nine vessels. The parade, illuminated by Japanese lanterns, was led by Scarpa’s gondola and followed by eight canoes.


In 1913, what was then called the Illuminated Water Parade was held again. The boats were judged and awarded prizes for the best decorated and most spectacularly lit. The parades continued to grow – a larger procession followed in 1914 and also in 1915. As many as 40 launches, canoes and rowboats participated. The spectacular event featured a derelict boat hull that was set afire, followed by a dramatic “rescue” of passengers, a “Battle of Fireworks” between two launches and the explosion of two underwater mines.


The Newport Beach Boat Parade is the premier Christmas event for Orange County, but has expanded to include residents in Los Angeles and much of Southern California. With over 100 years of history, the parade is viewed by over a million people each year. Newport Harbor comes alive with decorations – homes, yachts, docks and whole landscapes are transformed into winter wonderlands. Newport Beach begins its holiday decorating after Thanksgiving and by the first of December, the harbor is richly illuminated with thousands of lights and hundreds of themed estates.


Historical Photo1: While the boats of the first parade were decorated with Japanese lanterns, as the parade evolved, themes were introduced and decorations have become more creative and extravagant.


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