Christmas Ships Become Heritage Event

Photo: Christmas Ships

The Christmas Ships Parade, a long-standing Oregon event, marks its upcoming 66th year with an Oregon Heritage Tradition designation by the Oregon Heritage Commission.

Other Oregon Heritage Traditions include the Oregon State Fair, Medford’s Pear Blossom Festival, the Pendleton Round-Up, and the Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana.

“The designation recognizes those traditions that have helped define the character of the state,” said Chelsea Rose, the commission’s chair. “The Christmas Ships Parade ties into the importance of the river to Oregon’s Heritage and Oregon’s identity. It is an event enjoyed by many as the ships travel the Willamette and Columbia Rivers and is a long standing tradition for those who view it each year.”

The Christmas Ships Parade began with one decorated sailboat in 1954 and has since grown to over 70 participating boats. The entirely volunteer operated event runs for 15 nights during December and travels the Willamette and Columbia Rivers in the Portland Metro area providing opportunities for communities to view it from the river front, restaurants, parks, neighborhoods and waysides along the rivers. Several cities along the rivers have tied their holiday events to the parade schedule.

“The Christmas Ships Parade is a treasured tradition for many families and community members. For 66 years Christmas Ships small and large have paraded with brightly lit, colorful, and thematically decorated displays to celebrate the holiday season. A 100% volunteer run organization, Christmas Shippers spend countless hours on the chilly river waters to bring smiles to young and old alike. Excited each year to launch the season, we look forward to carrying on the tradition. Once you participate in the Christmas Ships Parade, whether as a Captain or a spectator, you will make it a tradition of your own,” says Kelly Marks, Christmas Ships Parade Board and Fleet Member. “The Parade is about more than Christmas. It represents family, community, celebration and hope. It is a positive and uplifting experience unlike any other.”

Volunteers dedicate over 3,000 hours in trainings, meetings, outreach, logistics, and the actual time in the parade. They host up to three meet and greet events at different locations where community members can see the boats up close, meet the boat owners, and learn about boat safety. Parade volunteers also partner with various charities throughout the year such as Fallen Firefighters, Ronald McDonald House, William Temple House, Portland Fire & Rescue Toy and Joy Makers, and Columbia River Fire & Rescue Toy N Joy and Holiday Hope.

This is an unusual year for Heritage Traditions. COVID-19 has forced many events to cancel or restructure for the first time in their 50+ year history. The only other time Oregon Heritage events have canceled has been due to WWI and WWII. This may be one of the few designated events that can safely proceed with their regular events with some minor safety modifications per state guidelines. While the parade will run as normal, all Meet & Greet events and open house activities are canceled for the 2020 parade season. As always, it is possible that individual parade night cancellations may occur due to unsafe weather conditions. This is unrelated to the pandemic. Notification of any cancellations will be posted at and social media channels.

Source: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department