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Newport Beach

Volume 5, Issue 95  |  November 27, 2020

Difficult times call for difficult decisions, Christmas Boat Parade canceled for 2020


The virus hates joy.

As the pandemic now sweeps across the nation and here in California, we’ve learned that COVID-19 is like a fire looking for dry timber to burn. It doesn’t care where it goes and the damage it causes. It’s a biological wrecking machine.

And Wednesday it claimed another victim, the 112th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade.

After considerable thought given the Governor’s announcement this week that Orange County has been demoted to the most restrictive Purple COVID-19 tier, the Chamber of Commerce made the reluctant decision to forego the parade this year.

The Christmas Boat Parade, our annual holiday card to the world, was perhaps the only large event in the region to soldier on this year despite the virus. The goal was to offer a bit of Christmas joy in a year when we really needed it.

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

Initially, with the county in a lower restrictive tier, it was thought that as an outdoor event the parade could be held safely. People would be encouraged to socially distance and mask up. The usual grand events, like the Grand Marshal kick off at Marina Park, were scrubbed early on to protect spectators.

But as pandemic’s caseloads grew and the Governor started his more restrictive crackdowns and encouraged people to stay home, it was apparent that the event would be fatally jeopardized.

The day after the parade was canceled, we also learned of the Governor’s office’s nightly curfew starting at 10 p.m., which would have made the parade now impossible since Newsom would have frowned on all evening events.

There were also concerns about optics and whether having people gathering on places like Balboa Island was wise given how fast the infection rate has grown in the last few weeks. Large crowds could not only be unsafe and be potential super spreaders to locals and visitors, but also attract unfavorable media coverage at a time when the attention should be on celebrating the season.

Yes, this seriously sucks. However, the festivities are not entirely dead. The Ring of Lights, the harbor’s home holiday décor showcase, will continue for people to enjoy. Many boat owners are expected to still continue to decorate their boats and will be cruising the harbor. There is even talk of a contest for boat owners who submit a photo of their decorated vessel.

But for restaurants, which normally are packed with parade guests, this is more bad news. They are already handicapped as of this week with mandatory outdoor dining restrictions. If a dining establishment on the harbor is without outside access, their guests wouldn’t be able to enjoy the parade anyway this year. This is especially unfortunate since the restaurant industry has had the most difficult year ever with capacity restrictions and constantly changing rules from the state.

I also feel badly for our Frontline and Community Grand Marshals, along with five deserving charities, who were to get some well-deserved public accolades for everything they’ve done to get us through 2020. 

This year, instead of a well-known celebrity, a different person each night from the hospitality, education, health and public safety sectors would be recognized and lead the parade, each representing thousands of people they work with during the pandemic. These are our local heroes who are still there assisting us through all of this mess, often times risking their own health in the process.

The parade may not happen but our gratitude to these people will remain.

Spectators are still encouraged to safely enjoy the lights on evening walks or cruise the harbor but the rush of people gathering in large groups will be discouraged. The parade may not happen, but the Newport Beach holiday spirit will not be squashed. 

In fact, Visit Newport Beach is putting together a digital Holiday Pass to provide locals and visitors with a one-stop guide to the holidays in Newport Beach including a Christmas Lights Trail, Festive Dining for Take Out, Holiday Shopping, Seasonal Activities and Winter Hotel Deals. Sign up at

There are some who will loudly dispute canceling the parade, and everyone understands their disappointment. All of us who love the parade and what it represents to our history and culture are devastated.

Trust me, it was not done for political reasons but because of the hard realities of the pandemic and the restrictions associated with it. The Chamber had a tough call to make and I applaud them. This is not dissimilar to when the city shut the beaches down during the past July 4th, another controversial decision that was done to protect resident and visitor public health.

Many of us thought we could hold the parade and keep people safe while bringing some much-needed happiness and holiday joy to people.

It was a great idea, but the virus had other plans. 

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.

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