The Church of Jesus Christ Participates in the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade 

“The whole meaning of Christmas is Christ’s birth and Him coming to save us and be our loving Savior”

Readers of the New Testament are familiar with stories of Jesus on boats. There He taught doctrine, calmed storms, and even fell asleep.

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For a fifth year, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in southern California are sharing the story of Christ on a boat of their own at the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. Actors aboard a 60-foot-long yacht decorated in Christmas lights are portraying the scriptural scene of the birth of the Savior of the world.

An estimated 1 million people are attending this year’s parade, held nightly from December 14 to December 18.

“They’re reminded about the true meaning of Christmas,” said Jeff Shields, organizer of the Church’s boat entry. “It’s a very spiritual thing to just watch the people on the docks and in the boats and in the windows and see the reactions. And some people cheer and applaud and are excited. Other people just stop what they’re doing. Small children grab their mom and say, ‘Look, it’s Jesus.’”

The parade, in its 114th year, stretches the 14-mile circumference of Newport Harbor and takes 30 to 40 minutes to watch. Event cochair David Beek said this year’s version has more than 100 vessels.

“We make it a point — and I particularly make it a point — to call this the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade,” Beek said. “It’s not the holiday parade. It’s not the Newport Beach boat parade. It’s the Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade. And I emphasize that to everybody.”

Each night 24 Latter-day Saints — well over 100 total during the five days of festivities — dress up as scriptural characters in the onboard Nativity.

“It felt like I was in her shoes, that the Savior was born and that He was in my arms and that He was going to be the Savior of the world,” said Lileigh Issac, who was Jesus’s mother, Mary, on Thursday, December 15. “I could see the look in people’s faces, how it just made them feel good. And I feel like that’s really important today.”

“We were the only Christ-themed boat,” added Mikey McCullough, who played Joseph. “Everyone just kind of went silent and [was in awe] as we went by. It was just wonderful to watch.”

His sister Hazel played an angel, standing above Mary and Joseph, pointing the audience to the Christ child below to her left.

“It’s the best role because everyone’s looking at you — and then you direct them to look at Christ our Savior,” Hazel said. “The whole meaning of Christmas is Christ’s birth and Him coming to save us and be our loving Savior.”

The Nativity-themed entry was awarded best music for the third year in a row. In previous years, the Church’s boat took home honors for originality (third place, 2017) and animation and special effects (second place, 2018).

“It’s wonderful to think that in such a secular age the Lord is reaching out in small ways and touching hearts — and who knows how far that will go,” Shields said.

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