Despite the balmy weather earlier in the day, a nippy evening breeze and the sight of decorated yachts sailing through Newport Harbor this week convinced a pair of East Coast visitors that Christmas can be celebrated in California.
As they watched the Festival of Lights boat parade from Balboa Island, Leo Macaluso and his wife, Genevieve, residents of Buffalo, N. Y., said they were glad to have escaped the blustery winter that had descended on upper New York state.
"We didn't think we were going to make it out here, because there was so much snow on the ground," he said. "But we are sure glad to be here for the holidays."
For their hosts, Joseph and Eleanor Pane of Buena Park, it was the first time in 23 years of living in Orange County that they had seen the festive spectacle.
"We've never come before because we thought traffic would be too heavy," Joseph Pane said. "But we had no trouble getting here, and found a spot pretty fast."
The four were among the crowds that mobbed the area this week during the seven-day parade starting each night at about 6:30. Young and old couples, families and party-goers strolled the walkway and huddled in groups along the shore to enjoy the annual event.
This year's parade featured about 100 yachts decorated with multicolored Christmas lights. Some enterprising enthusiasts had shaped the boat lights into evergreen trees, stars and even a glowing Halley's comet complete with a tail.
Rudolph the Reindeer's bright red nose lit the way for one boat as it cruised the narrow channel past Balboa Island. White lights adorned the ferry boats traveling to Balboa Island and many homes along the shore also displayed festive lights.
At times, the parade seemed to follow an erratic course. Although the boats were following a route through the harbor, they seemed to float randomly in all directions, passing each other in the clear, quiet night.
'Lots of Traffic
"Looks like lots of traffic out there," said Steve Jacobs of Whittier, who was sitting on a bench with his wife, Barbara, and son, Sam, 8.
Sipping on a cup of hot cocoa poured from a thermos, Barbara Jacobs said the three had taken a ferry ride and were now going to settle down and enjoy the parade.
Nearby, a group of three women and a man stood chatting, enjoying the multicolored parade of lights. Pam Shier, of Newport Beach, said that watching the parade from shore was better than riding on a boat.
"If you are in it, all you see are the two boats in front of you and behind you," she explained.
The parade will run through Monday.