Both boats and bay front homes alike shine bright during the holiday season.
The Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade celebrates the floating festivals, while the Ring of Lights honors the lights on land.
A side spectacle to the main event, the Ring of Lights home decorating contest has become as nearly as noteworthy as the nationally recognized Boat Parade. Residents decorate their bay front homes with as much extravagance as the boats themselves.
Both are hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
The Boat Parade and the Ring of Lights work well together, residents agree. The Ring of Lights definitely encourages residents to decorate and join in the festivities, said S. Bay Front resident Dennis Vitarelli, 2015 Photographer’s Choice winner.
“The contest brings people together,” Vitarelli said.
There is nothing quite like Christmas on Balboa Island, agreed E. Bay Front residents Jim and Judy Busby, 2015 Best Traditional Lights winners.
From custom, edible gingerbread houses at the Busby household to a life-size plywood gingerbread house at the Vitarelli residence, spectators will see it all as the walk around both the main and little Balboa Island.
History and Tradition at a E. Bay Front Home
Jim Busby has lived in Newport Beach since 1963, with the last 41 years in a large historic home at 111 E. Bay Front on Little Balboa Island.
Raised in Pasadena, when his family visited the island he played on the front lawn of the notable Cape Cod-style house. He had fond childhood memories of the home and Balboa Island when he, by chance, got the opportunity to purchase it in the mid-1970s.
“If there was ever a home I wanted to own on Balboa Island, it’s this one,” he said.
He and his wife, Judy, have preserved the home and it’s original charm, something they hope the next owners will continue.
With his other boyhood memories of Christmas Tree Lane in Pasadena and decorating his family’s home for the holidays, he knew he wanted to keep the Christmas spirit alive at his Balboa Island home.
“It’s a special tradition,” Jim Busby said.
Since the home has history and charm of times gone by, both Busbys like to decorate with a traditional theme.
They start decorating about one week before Thanksgiving. Although they used to do the installation themselves, it’s a bit tougher nowadays and they hire someone to help.
Lights cover the trees and bushes in the yard and line the house. This year, the couple decided to feature wreaths in their display, with seven on hung up around the interior and exterior of their home.
They buy custom gingerbread houses, and one gingerbread train, that are on display inside the home and in the courtyard until the grandchildren get to enjoy them on Christmas day.
The decorations also include a holiday-themed garden. Judy Busby does most of the designing for the winter flora portion of their display. They start planning the garden in October, she said.
The garden and decorations create good feelings on both sides of the fence. They love creating it and people love seeing it.
“We love that people enjoy what we’ve done,” Judy Busby said. “It brings joy.”
The garden, which changes seasonally, and the lawn are watered with re-routed desalinized water from their boat. Their ingenuity keeps their lawn green, while saving water and money.
Just beyond the lawn and the lit up hedge is a courtyard lined with poinsettias. The trees provide privacy and create an intimate environment. The candles help enhance a warm, cozy feeling.
Another unique feature that passersby always notice is the antique motorcycle parked inside, nestled “under” the tree with a big red bow on the handlebars. What the spectators may not know is that it’s not a Christmas gift, it’s there year-round, but it does have an interesting backstory.
As a teen, he bought the same style of bike from the military surplus. Young Jim Busby was excited to ride it and work on it. It was a great bike, or so he thought at the time. Fast forward a few decades and his memories of owning an impressive motorcycle as a teen prompt him to buy another (since he sold the original). Although, as an adult the bike didn’t quite live up to his hopeful expectations, once having to push it up a hill. And after a few tough rides, he retired it as a display-only bike.
All of this creates a special holiday scene, something the Busbys enjoy.
“We do this because we love it,” Jim Busby said.
Life-Size Santa’s Village at S. Bay Front Home
On the main island, Dennis Vitarelli has created a life-size Santa’s Village and gingerbread house at 140 S. Bay Front.
On the land side is the North Pole area, which includes trees, snowmen and, of course, Santa’s Village.
On the water side is the elves’ gingerbread workshop.
Although they don’t cross paths, several strings of snowflake lights dangle overhead to connect the two spaces and create a “winter wonderland.”
Visitors feel like they are right there with Santa and the elves. It’s almost interactive, he said.
“You can almost get involved with it,” Vitarelli said.
People often take their Christmas card photos in front of it, he noted. He’s even gotten a few of them in the mail over the years.
New this year, Vitarelli added colored laser lights that display snowmen, snowflakes, gingerbread men in patterns on the ground.
He also added candy canes to the gingerbread fence.
“I try to add something new each year,” he noted.
Vitarelli’s display includes an animated Santa who has had a few mishaps. He’s had four Santas in nearly as many years.
A woman hugged the first Santa a little too hard and he lost his “Ho Ho Ho.”
The second Santa retired after a woman wanted to see him up close and tripped while walking up the steps to meet him. She knocked him over and his head tumbled off. The jolly man’s head rolled down the steps in front of some – now screaming – children.
The third just quit working. The rain likely dampened his spirits.
Last year Vitarelli debuted his fourth Santa, who is now the first one to make a repeat appearance. Please no hugging, Vitarelli pleaded.
The animated Santa is a big hit with the kids, he added.
He enjoys seeing people’s reactions and hearing their comments, mainly the children, but it’s getting tougher to do every year so now his son helps with all the work.
People tend to remember his house. Several times while traveling and talking with others he has met people who have been to Balboa Island during the holidays and many specifically remember his decorations.
“Everyone recognizes the gingerbread house,” Vitarelli said, and “everyone loves Balboa Island at Christmas.”