Alongside its on-the-water companion, the Ring of Lights home decorating contest sparkles again this year.
Next week kicks off the annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce. Tied in with the boat parade is the landside version of the event, the Ring of Lights.
Waterfront homes on Balboa and Harbor islands, Balboa Peninsula and Bayside Drive participate in the contest. Decorations include a mixture of styles and themes, including traditional, modern, tech-focused, cozy, humorous, and more.
There is a long-standing tradition to decorate bay front houses during the parade with as much extravagance as the boats themselves, and the Ring of Lights has become almost as celebrated as the parade.
A longtime Ring of Lights participant and winner is Shirley Pepys and her penguin-themed décor at 526 S. Bayfront.
“The chamber does a great job of planning and coordinating, (both) the Boat Parade and the Ring of Lights,” and encouraging people to participate, Pepys commented.
The holidays on Balboa Island are unique, she added.
“It’s very special,” Pepys said. “People get very excited about it, adults and children alike.”
Her Bayfront neighbor Janet Curci agrees.
“(Christmas on the island) is just magical,” Curci said. “We have been so lucky to live where we live.”
Curci’s home at 808 S. Bayfront has won some awards from the Ring of Lights in the few years since she started participating.
“It’s so nice to be recognized, and it’s an honor because there are so many magnificent homes on the water,” she said.
Festive Penguins Go Sailing
Shirley Pepys at 526 S. Bayfront has always decorated and it’s almost always been centered around penguins.
It all started when Pepys found a couple of the aquatic tuxedo birds in a shop.
“I fell in love with penguins,” Pepys said.
They created that year’s theme, and the following year, and the year after that, and it soon became an annual tradition that has grown and evolved over the years.
“It just kept growing,” she continued. People started to ask, “What are the penguins going to do this year?”
Local sisters Deanne Lemire and Darcy Haffner have worked on the penguin design for the past five years, Pepys explained. Pepys met the family after Lemire’s son, audio technician Dillon Wells, installed the custom sound system in Pepys’ home.
“They’re passionate about what they’ve started here,” Pepys said.
Over the years the penguins have had Christmas in Hawaii, holidayed in a winter wonderland, and a few years ago they traveled back in time to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Pepys’ historic home.
This season, the birdies are going sailing and looking for a tour of the harbor.
A sign points down the boardwalk, indicating that the ferry is that direction.
One penguin, dressed in a self-referential winter sweater vest featuring embroidered penguins playing with snowflakes, stands on a dock waiting to board a small red sailboat named Just Chillin’ and, with the help of some rotating lights, the water appears to be moving.
The sailboat, is a replica made by the sisters of the little red sabot in the Balboa Island Museum (where Pepys is the president).
The Museum’s boat was a bit too big for the penguins, so the sisters created a slightly smaller, more penguin-sized model for this year’s display.
The S. Bayfront home, where Pepys has lived for 24 years, has won numerous awards from the Ring of Lights contest, the Balboa Island Improvement Association decorating contest, and even a few families who toured the island and chose the penguin house as their favorite.
The penguins have been the background to many Christmas cards, family photos, and even a couple of marriage proposals.
“I’m obviously passionate about Christmas,” she said.
The penguin scene is lit up every night around 5 p.m. and stay on until about 11 p.m. Decorations will stay up through the new year.
Celebrating the Reason for the Season
Janet Curci at 808 S. Bayfront loves the Christmas festivities, decorations, lights, music, and the overall spirit of the season, and so much more.
“I love the decorating, but we have to keep in mind what Christmas is, and it’s the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Curci said. “In today’s world, we get so caught up in the commercial side of it that we sometimes forget where our focus should go.”
The outside of her home features four angels trumpeting, a nativity scene, and traditional green foliage and red ribbons. She’s always decorated, but last year she added the angels.
“I just felt that our world was in such turmoil that we needed to get back to the true meaning of Christmas,” Curci said. “I wanted to do something spiritual… The reason for the season.”
She wanted something “simple, yet powerful,” Curci said.
To Curci, Christmas is also about family. It’s hard to get such a big group together, but it’s important to gather together. About 14 to 20 family members head to her house each year.
A lot of her decorations have been passed down to her from her mother.
“I get very attached to things, I hate throwing things away,” Curci said. “Almost everything has a story behind it.”
Items like a ceramic desktop nativity scene from her parents, hand needlepoint embroidered stockings she made for her family, a miniature winter cottage she made in a class on Old Newport Boulevard in 1972, a personalized Night Before Christmas book her parents got her in 1945, and the forcola (rowlock) from a gondola she brought over from Italy.
Other pieces she has picked up on her travels in Germany, Israel, Italy, and elsewhere.
She has lived in her S. Bayfront home for about 30 years, but has been in Newport since the early 1940s. She described her style as “early Italian eclectic,” she said with a laugh.
There is something special about Christmas on Balboa Island, she said.
Most of her holiday décor is traditional, but instead of a Christmas tree, she has a small palm tree. About a decade ago she started re-thinking the traditional Christmas tree.
“I thought, ‘I don’t remember Jesus growing up with Douglas fir trees,’” she said.
It doesn’t take up a lot of room, it’s quick and easy to put up, and it’s unique, Curci explained.
“I love it,” Curci said.
Her lights turn on around 5 p.m. and off around 11 p.m. Decorations stay up until early January.