We may not have snow or mistletoe, but Newport Beach is aglow with festive decorations—on houses, businesses and even boats. Some homeowners go all-out every year as part of the annual Ring of Lights Home Decorating Contest, hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
“Although the Ring of Lights contest doesn’t have the long history that the Boat Parade enjoys, it has become very much a part of the Newport Beach holiday tradition,” noted Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rosansky.
The Chamber, which hosts the Christmas Boat Parade, canceled the event this year out of safety concerns for the large crowds that normally gather along the parade route. However, a separate independent boat parade did take place.
For the Ring of Lights, homeowners around the harbor who decorate their homes and enter are judged by a panel of judges and are eligible to win awards (mainly bragging rights) in various categories.
According to Ring of Lights chair Joe Stapleton, who was recently honored as the Newport Beach Citizen of the Year, he looks forward to the event each year.
“It is truly amazing how creative and over the top people can be with their decorations,” he stated.
Dennis and Patti Vitarelli are regular Ring of Lights entrants. Their home on South Bayfront features a massive Gingerbread House.
“We love seeing kids and families taking pictures in front of it for the holidays,” said Dennis. “The decorated homes really help the whole bay come alive. Balboa Island is such a great place to live, we want to show some holiday spirit.”
A perennial Ring of Lights winner is Shirley Pepys, who has been entering the contest for the past 20 years. This year, she was honored with an award for Best Lights and Animation.
According to Pepys, she and her son created the original light displays, but for the past eight years Pepys has been using the assistance of two women who live in Lake Forest.
“They are so talented—they don’t do any other house except mine,” said Pepys. “We usually start planning in July. I tell them to include penguins, then they build everything at their homes.”
Pepys has a storage unit where she keeps decorations from previous years, most of which are seldom reused because every year is a new theme.”
Pepys decided to scale back from her usual over-the-top décor, although less is more since she still won an award.
So why does Pepys, and other Newport Beach homeowners, continue to outdo themselves on holiday decorations?
“I remember my own childhood, and my father driving around to show us the decorated houses,” said Pepys. “It does bring a lot of joy to people.”
Ring of Lights Winners
Sweepstakes: Best Overall
Bruce & Viviana FaBrizio / 1407 Bayside Dr., Corona del Mar
Lights and Animation – 1st Place
Shirley Pepys / 526 S. Bay Front, Balboa Island
Lights and Animation – 2nd Place
John & Essie Bootsma / 128 Via Lido Nord, Lido Isle
Best Theme: (Making the Best of 2020)
Darcy Marshall / 1700 S. Bayfront, Balboa Island
Craig & Jamie Atkins / 928 Via Lido Nord, Lido Isle
Best Traditional Lights
Robert Olson / 351 East Bay Front, Balboa Island
“Green” Entry Award
Matthew Thomas / 409 E. Edgewater, Balboa Peninsula
Scott Sarkisian / 1006 East Balboa Blvd., Balboa Peninsula
Humor and Originality
Jeanne Lewand / 343 East Bay Front, Balboa Island
Scottie Upshall / 3803 Marcus Ave., Newport Island
Best on Lido
Mike & Lori Gray / 309 Via Lido Soud, Lido Isle
Gigi & Craig Lyons / 2706 Bayshore Dr., Bayshores
Balboa Angling Club / 200 A St., Balboa Peninsula
Best on Peninsula
Todd & Kelly Roberts / 1501 E Balboa Blvd., Balboa Peninsula
Judge’s Award – 1st Place
Jim & Judy Busby / 111 East Bayfront, Balboa Island
Judge’s Award – 2nd Place
Geof Wickett & Norm Lessard / 309 East Bay Front, Balboa Island
Best Yacht Club
Balboa Yacht Club (BYC) / 1801 Bayside Dr., Corona del Mar