Miles away from the major holiday festivities and busy shopping corridors, a maritime Christmas celebration will capture the magic and merriment of the season, sailor style: with a fleet of yachts festooned with sparkling lights and acrobatic paddleboarders wearing Santa suits, along with choirs of angelic carolers.
This Saturday, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation will host the fifth annual Lights at the Lake Holiday Bash, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the New Canal Lighthouse. The West End Boat Parade, which can be seen from the lighthouse and a few lakefront restaurants, begins at 5:30 p.m.
The free event features live performances by the St. Rita School Sensational Singing Panthers, the Shades of Praise Gospel Choir, and Benny Grunch and the Bunch, known for their popular “12 Yats of Christmas” ditty.
Guests of all ages can enjoy Christmas book readings, take pictures with Santa Claus and peruse the locally made jewelry and artwork that’s available in the Lighthouse Museum’s gift shop.
As for food, hungry revelers can fill their bellies with shrimp and Andouille gumbo from Bourbon House, jambalaya from Mother's Restaurant, shrimp remoulade from The Court of Two Sisters and pizza from Reginelli's Pizzeria.
“It's rare that you get all of those wonderful restaurants in one spot, so you can get a little sampling from each,” said Kristi Trail, the executive director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
But the dazzling boat parade is what truly makes this seasonal bash so special.
More than 40 yachts, some as long as 70 feet, are embellished with glitzy decorations and colorful lights — from boom to bow, up the mast and around the sail.
After daring performances by costumed paddleboarders and flyboarders, the boat fleet will assemble across from the New Canal Lighthouse and glide up and down the New Basin Canal, along Breakwater Drive and through the harbor.
The procession is led by a vessel carrying Mr. and Mrs. Claus and a troop of mischievous elves. Other boats are illuminated by glowing dolphins, Christmas trees and snowflakes, along with reindeers soaring into the sky.
The West End Boat Parade was informally launched about 25 years ago, by “a group of friends who put some lights on their boats and drove around the harbor,” said Tommy Taggart, who leads the parade committee with his brother Larry.
The Christmas-inspired nautical celebration continued to grow in size and popularity, thanks to the efforts of local yacht clubs, harbors and marine businesses.
Taggart’s committee worked with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Lighthouse Museum to sync their parade with the land-based festival, so that both events could serve as one big fundraiser.
“We hope that a lot of people will come out to the lighthouse and support the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, which is kind of what this is all about,” Taggart said.
Lights at the Lake benefits the foundation’s mission of restoring and preserving the entire Lake Pontchartrain Basin. The event supports programs focused on water quality, coastal sustainability and education. It also promotes the New Canal Lighthouse, which serves as the foundation’s outreach center.
“It's a great place for the public to come out and see the work that the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation does,” Trail said.
“We're very proud of the fact that we’ve cleaned up the lake,” said Trail, explaining how Lake Pontchartrain was removed from the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of impaired and threatened waters. “We want people to come out to the lighthouse and see the great work that we do, and know that the lakefront is back.”
Lights at the Lake Holiday Bash
When: Saturday, Dec. 9, from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: New Canal Lighthouse (8001 Lakeshore Drive)