While other Orange County neighborhoods offer walk or drive through viewing of decorated holiday homes, Newport Beach offers another perspective: By boat.
Waterfront homes on Balboa and Harbor islands, Balboa Peninsula and Bayside Drive are decked out in lights, color and decorations once again for the holiday season.
Many as part of the 2017 Ring of Lights home decorating contest, the landside counterpart to the annual Newport Beach Christmas Parade, hosted by the Commodores Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Houses in the Ring of Lights contest are a mixture of styles and themes, including traditional, modern, tech-focused, cozy, humorous, and more.
“Each house is showing the people that live there,” said participant Geof Wickett, who owns a home on little Balboa Island. “That’s what makes the whole thing work, because you have a variety.”
“It’s just magical,” added his husband, Norm Lessard.
People can join in on any level they want, either entirely decked out or just a few simple lights.
“Everyone participates and gets into the spirit of the season,” said Michelle DelPonte, who decorates their home on Harbor Island.
It’s a fun and special way to celebrate the season, her husband, Reg, agreed.
Cheer and Charm on E. Bay Front
Geof Wickett and Norm Lessard and their home on E. Bay Front on little Balboa Island are full of love, joy and festiveness. And the delicious smell of baked goods on certain weekends during the holiday season.
The atmosphere spills out into the Christmas decorating theme. The lights, color and décor create a warm, cozy scene.
A lit “Candy Cane Lane” on the dock, a tree mounted front and center in the window (and second duplicate tree on the opposite side of the glass), a large wreath and a glowing star on top. And, of course, lights. A lot of them, creating a welcoming glow.
They have won a few times, including the Founder’s Award in 2016, although that’s far from the reason for the festive decoration. They just love the holiday season and everything that comes with it.
“We love Christmas,” Wickett said. “We love the joy, we love the happiness (of the season)… We do it because we like to share.”
Wickett’s parents bought the house, originally a three-story Spanish pueblo, in 1946. They remodeled it a few years later and then moved in, after living in Fullerton for several years, in 1970. He moved into the house in 2007 and Lessard joined in 2010.
They started decorating for the holidays, although it started small and evolved over the years.
“It was a lot simpler,” Lessard said with a laugh.
They both come up with ideas that they bounce off each other and they work together to make their shared vision come to life.
“We’re a team,” Wickett said.
The centerpiece is a pair of decorated trees at the middle of the front window, one on the outside and one inside the house, creating a “mirror” image. The double tree is a tradition Wickett’s father dreamt up when the family lived in Fullerton and they kept alive after moving to Balboa Island.
Lights string two large trees that frame the house. A large wreath and criss-crossed oversized candy canes decorate the second story.
Wanting to add something new to top it all off this year, they placed a large, brightly lit star on the roof. With the base and support system painted black, it appears to be floating above the house.
Their dock is turned into “Candy Cane Lane” and ties it all together. He made the tall canes from white PVC pipe, warming each one to create the crook, and painting on the red stripes. The candy canes were previously placed along the little island bridge for many years, Wickett explained.
Inside (also on display through the Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour on Sunday), the highlights include an elaborate miniature village encircled by an electric train, lovingly and meticulously placed.
Another focal point is the collection of Annalee dolls that spans the generations. Lessard’s mother loved the Annalee dolls, which were previously made in New Hampshire, where his family is from. Every Christmas for about 30 years he would give her a pair of the small holiday themed dolls with hand painted faces.
An older, bendable set of elves are other favorite items on display. The flexible little elves often pop up around the couple’s home throughout the year. Wickett’s father got his first one when he was a kid.
While they often add new pieces and the design or smaller items vary year to year, there are a few mainstays, like the double trees and an aged (about 45 years old) classic plastic Santa.
Wickett and Lessard even do all the decorating themselves.
They use a long hooked pole in order to place the lights up in the trees, sometimes precariously leaning off the second story balcony in order to hang the other decorations.
The electric bill is approximately quintuple during the holiday season due to the nearly 15,000 lights on the house. It takes a solid month to get everything prepared and in place, both inside and outside the house. It all comes down in about 24 hours on Jan. 1.
But it’s all worth it for the couple, who jokingly agreed that only death would stop them from decorating.
“It’s a labor of love,” Lessard said.
Simple and Classic on Harbor Island
Reg and Michelle DelPonte won last year’s rookie award for their home on Harbor Island, and they’re off to a good start.
They’ve lived in Newport Beach for more than 30 years, and in their Harbor Island home for about nine years. They always put up some lights or decorations, but started doing more a few years ago, Michelle DelPonte said.
They wanted to participate and get more involved with the community, and the Ring of Lights contest offered a fun and festive way to do that.
The lights are the main focus, she explained. They stick with the classic red and green colors, opting to create a traditional cozy glow around the home. The lights frame the roof of the house, as well as the bushes that arch over the large glass doors leading out into the yard. A wreath hangs in the center of the second story balcony.
This year they added a life-size Santa, lounging in a beach chair on the sand in front of their house, an empty glass in hand. He’s wearing a necklace of the classic multicolor Christmas light bulbs.
Although she joked that she doesn’t want to go “full Griswold,” a reference to the National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation movie which featured a house with every inch of covered in lights, Michelle DelPonte is already thinking of what to add in the future.
Next year, Mrs. Claus may join Santa on the sand, she said. She may also decorate the dock.
It’s a fun way to spread cheer and the spirit of the season, Reg DelPonte said.
Since Harbor Island is private and gated, the DelPontes focused on creating the best view from the water. A boat tour of the Ring of Lights homes offers a unique perspective and often emphasizes the best features of each home’s décor.
Although the only foot traffic they get on the private island are their neighbors and their guests, they get plenty of people going by on boats, Michelle DelPonte said.
They can often hear the comments from people on the water, who wave and take photos as they pass by, Reg DelPonte said.
“If we can bring a smile to their face, that’s great,” Michelle DelPonte said. “We want something that people can look at and enjoy.”
People from around the world know the boat parade, Reg DelPonte said. While traveling for business, if people learn that he lives in Newport Beach they often mention the globally recognized holiday event.
“The scale of it is huge,” he said.
The uniqueness of Christmas in Newport Beach, the boat parade and the decorated homes are what bring people to town, he added.
With the help of a team of a handful of workers, it takes about half a day to install the lighting and decorations. The extra lights don’t make much of a difference in the electric bill throughout the season, they said.
It usually doesn’t come down until a week or two into the new year.
For more information, visit christmasboatparade.com.