In 1954, The Christmas Ship Parade began with a single sailboat from the Portland Yacht Club. Bows of green and ribbons were tied along the rails and it paraded on the rivers.
The Christmas Ship Fleet now averages from 55 to 60 boats between the Columbia and Willamette River fleets. The displays are brightly lit and can be seen from bank to bank on each river.
People flock to the riverbanks to watch the event regardless of weather. Restaurants and hotels swell as the long-awaited seasonal festivities approaches. In appreciation of the all-volunteer effort show, many homes and cars along the way flash their porch and headlights as the fleet passes.
Each boat owner designs and builds their lighted Christmas display and pays their operating costs, which includes fuel. New and returning boats can be seen in the flotilla each year. As skippers retire, they also hand down their well-known displays so the tradition continues.
For many boat owners, the parade is a family Christmas tradition. Many of the operators also have small private parties for friends and families aboard their vessels during the parade.
Some restaurants and hotels along both rivers, as well as private citizens, donate to the insurance fund for the lead boats each year.