For 59 years, Portland has been celebrating the holidays with its annual Christmas Ship Parade, and tomorrow, the parade makes its way to South Portland. The Christmas Ship Parade is just what it sounds like—a parade of ships displaying their holiday lights by floating down the Willamette and Columbia River. The lighted Christmas displays for each boat in the parade are designed and built by the boat owners, who also pay operating costs. The ships parade on the rivers of Portland every night for two weeks if weather permits. If, however, the weather seems threatening, the leaders for the evening decide about a half hour before the parade whether or not they will cancel.
The Christmas Ship Parade began in 1954 with just one sailboat from Portland Yacht Club. The sailboat was covered with ribbon and bows of green, and it proudly paraded along the Portland rivers. The following year, the parade began to grow, and today, the Christmas Ship Fleet averages about 55 to 60 boats between the Columbia and Willamette River fleets. The displays have come a long way from the bows and ribbons of the first parade as well. Today, the displays are brightly lit and can be seem from bank to bank on each river.
Because many restaurants lie along the two rivers where the parade takes place, businesses boom around this time of year, and many Portlanders have made the Christmas Ship Parade a part of their holiday traditions. Many dinner reservations are made a year in advance, hotel rooms are booked by mid-summer, and corporate Christmas parties are scheduled around the Christmas Ship Parade schedule. Every night, regardless of weather, thousands of Portland and Vancouver residents line the banks of the Willamette and Columbia River to watch the parade. Many of the boat operators also have small private parties for friends and families aboard their vessels during the parade. Some restaurants, hotels, and even private citizens along the rivers also donate to the insurance fund for the lead boats each year.
Tomorrow, Sunday, December 15th, the Willamette and Columbia Fleets will assemble in front of RiverPlace Marina in Southwest Portland at 5:00 pm. The parade will begin in the OMSI/RiverPlace area, and the ships will sail upstream to the Spaghetti Factory before heading down to St. John’s, where they will remain for thirty minutes before heading up the Columbia River. Some of the restaurants in Southwest Portland with a great view of the Willamette parade include Three Degrees Restaurant, Quartet Restaurant, and Aquavira Restaurant. The Christmas Ship Parade website also notes some worthy Southwest Portland viewing areas, including the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, the RiverPlace Esplanade, and the Liberty Ship Memorial Park on SW Naito Parkway. Wherever you are, make sure you start your newest Christmas tradition tomorrow by heading down to the waterfront and checking out the 59th annual Christmas Ship Parade.