Treasures and Tales from Sherman Library's Collections

The Tournament of Lights

Paul Wormser, Library Director

Paul Wormser, Library Director

In another reminder that 2020 is a year like no other, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has been canceled.  Next year we will undoubtedly see a return of this popular event.

In another reminder that 2020 is a year like no other, the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade has been canceled.  Next year we will undoubtedly see a return of this popular event.

The Christmas Boat Parade and its predecessor the Tournament of Lights have a long history, that include cancellations due to wartime regulations, the energy crisis, and financial difficulties. Yet, the popularity of the event has always helped it to endure.

The first lighted boat parade in Newport Harbor was organized by John Scarpa, a Venetian gondolier, who in 1908 convinced 

Pasadena Float from the 1931 Tournament of Lights

some friends to adorn their canoes with Japanese lanterns and join him with his gondola for the first parade. The event was held periodically in the coming years, until in 1921 when it became an annual event — the Tournament of Lights.   Under the leadership of Joseph Beek, the Tournament of Lights grew steadily in the years before World War II.  Civic groups and cities sponsored elaborate lighted floats.  The event was often compared to the Tournament of Roses.  Originally held in the summer, tens of thousands of people from throughout the region flocked to Newport Beach for the event. Following World War II the parade fell to financial difficulties, however, it was eventually revived as the Christmas Boat Parade.

The float presented by the Beacon Bay community of Newport Beach in 1941.
Float promoting Newport Beach's Pirate Days, 1941

View more photographs from the Tournament of Lights on the Sherman Library Digital Catalog.