Santa Barbara’s Christmas celebrations took to the water Sunday as hundreds of families gathered to watch boats sail in the 33rd annual Parade of Lights at Stearns Wharf and the Santa Barbara Harbor.
The long-standing tradition started at 3 p.m. as Santa Barbarans explored Santa’s Village on the City Pier before the parade began at 5:30 p.m.
Children played in 10 tons of snow and took pictures with Santa Claus himself.
Santa has been busy running around town to different events, but this was children’s chance to hand over their Christmas wish lists right on the water.
Some visitors, like 4-year-old Melania McWhirter, created their first memory of playing with snow. She came to the parade for the first time with her mother and grandmother from Carpinteria. Melania was very excited ever since they heard about the event online, said her grandmother Mary McWhirter.
“She keeps talking about Santa and snowmen and says, ‘Santa keeps calling me and calling me and I don’t know what to say!’. I said, ‘tell him you’ll meet him at the snow!’” said Ms. McWhirter.
Despite a light rain, the celebrations continued apace, even when the lighting of the Christmas tree by the Sea Center was thwarted by faulty wiring. Despite the dimmer than usual lights, the ceremony was a lovely kickoff, with Councilmember Randy Rowse flipping the switch while San Marcos students sang classic carols like “Winter Wonderland” and “Deck the Halls.”
The crowds braved the clouds and stuck it out to the very end of the event when fireworks were launched from West Beach.
“It really brings the community together. Everyone has a great time,” said acting Waterfront Director Karl Treiberg.
Local boaters from the 1,100 slips in the Harbor signed on to compete in the parade.
Some 22 boats participated and competed for donated cash and prizes in five categories: Grand Prize; Commercial Fishing; Commercial Other; Human Powered; Power; and Sail.
The route began at the Santa Barbara Yacht Club, continued past Stearns Wharf to the end of East Beach, and then back along the beach and past the wharf for the judges and crowds to see.
“Some of the prizes are hundreds of dollars and all kinds of gift certificates from local vendors so it’s a great deal if you’re willing to put in the time decorating your boat,” said Mr. Treiberg.
This year’s theme was “Deep Space Holidays.” UFOs, rocket ships and little green men made of Christmas lights floated by and shouts of Merry Christmas were mixed with “To Infinity and Beyond!” as crowds waved and cheered the boats on.
Santa Barbara City Council members Kristen Sneddon, Oscar Gutierrez and Megan Harmon, alongside Yacht Club Commodore Scott Deardorff, judged the boats in the parade, giving them a score of 1-5 on theme, best lights and “WOW” impact.
Grand prize went to the Freidman family for their lighting work on their boat The Perseverance. The family also took home first, second, and third prize for the Commercial Fishing category. It’s the fourth time the family has won the grand prize, and the 10th year they’ve won the Commercial Fishing category, taking only two years off for a birth and the Thomas Fire.
“We just put it together every year over the weekend and we just have fun. We invite everybody, the family, on the boat and the kids love it and that’s why we still do it,” said Bernard Freidman.
The Freidmans had 15 people on the boat, a lighter turnout than most years, Mr. Freidman told the News-Press.
“But the kids love it and we do it for them and the family and we just have a fun time.”
This year’s event was sponsored by the 2019 Parade of Lights Committee, city of Santa Barbara Waterfront Department, Santa Barbara Harbor Merchants Association, Stearns Wharf Business Association and Santa Barbara Yacht Club.