It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Belmont Shore Saturday night, as artificial snow fell on a not-so-winter wonderland while children danced in the streets like visions of sugar plum fairies.
With neighboring streets lined by cars, residents left their doors open and some were content to sit outside and dine in the chilly air. Lights strewn along Second Street lit the cordoned-off path in all shades of reds, greens and whites. The street, emptied of its usual traffic by 5 p.m., was filled instead with thousands who flocked from their homes carrying folded chairs and blankets with their friends, families and beloved pets in tow.
As darkness descended so did the floats, marching bands and paraders for the 35th Annual Belmont Shore Christmas Parade, aptly themed for yet another quintessentially Californian winter “Christmas in Paradise.”
For many, this gathering of Long Beach natives and visitors is just another installment of a longstanding tradition. Breanna Eubanks, 35, explained that she and her family used to live in Long Beach. When they moved to Wildomar, which is over an hour drive away from the coastal city, they still continued to come down each year to see the Christmas parade with their children, Jeff, 14; Logan, 11 and KC, 7.
“Our kids, we bring them here every year,” Eubanks said. “It’s something they’ve grown up with. We’ve contemplated not coming here a couple times, and they made us come anyways!”
She added that the feeling of coming home is what makes the parade so special to her. For visitors such as Maribelle Hernandez, 40, and Todd Roberts, 45, attending the parade was an act of support for their friends and family who participated. Hernandez’s daughter, Erendida, came through the year prior with Long Beach City College.
Roberts’ son, on the other hand, rode along with Cub Scouts this year.
“It’s a pretty big parade, I’m having a lot of fun,” Roberts said, who quickly added that seeing his son in the festivities was his favorite part of the parade thus far.
This year’s parade, organized and sponsored by the Belmont Shore Business Association but presented by the Port of Long Beach, boasted over 100 parade participants. Local businesses, schools, organizations and personalities all participated in the festivities by walking the parade or making a float.
Parade floats were judged on the basis of execution of theme, originality in design and overall spectator appeal. While some were happy to stick to classic decor, others like Salud Juice readily embraced the parade theme with ocean waves, pink flamingos, palm tree fringe and glittery, yellow pineapples.
Attendees sported Hawaiian leis and Christmas string light necklaces, with some donning their finest holiday sweaters and others just prepared to stave off the chilly air. Cart vendors stood by with an arsenal of light-up toys for purchase and restaurant patrons on the block watched as floats passed by.
Tony Azevedo, five-time U.S. Olympic water polo player and Long Beach legend for his time at Woodrow Wilson Classical High School, was dubbed this year’s acting grand marshal. Azevedo rode down Second Street early on in the parade, seated in a Long Beach lifeguard boat.
As the night continued, high school marching bands and color guard teams captivated audiences. Parade floats played Christmas classics and contemporary songs such as Sia’s “Santa’s Coming for Us” and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” Some floats, such as the Rotary Club of Long Beach, even carried live performers. Aquarium of the Pacific had puppeteers walk the streets, cheerfully wishing families a good Christmas with hammerhead sharks and seahorses.
Paraders cheerfully handed out candy to children. The Red Eye Media float, which notably had a giant Lego Star Wars Stormtrooper, also gave away free totes to excited attendees.
Pets were not left out of the celebrations as So Cal Corgi Nation and Friends of Long Beach Animals paraded down their street with their dogs, dressed in their holiday best with some lit up as brightly as Christmas trees.
David Karian, 53, a Cal State Long Beach alumnus of ‘86, explained that he and his wife haven’t missed a parade in the last 24 years as a part of their holiday tradition.
“[Long Beach] is big but it’s small, and you see a lot of people that you haven’t seen and it’s the same people year after year,” Karian said. “We used to bring our kids and now that they’re older, now my wife and I and our friends. We have a tradition of coming down and sitting in the middle of the road and watching the parade.”
The Belmont Shore Christmas Parade marks the beginning of many other holiday-related festivities throughout Long Beach such as the Naples Holiday Boat Parade on Dec. 9, the Old Time Christmas Festival on Dec. 10 and the CHILL Ice Adventure Park aboard the Queen Mary beginning Dec. 13.