Decked out in a toy soldier costume, Seaford resident Joe Donohue was eager to climb aboard a friend’s boat at the 19th annual Seaford Harbor Christmas Boat Parade last Saturday.
“I love seeing the kids on the docks,” Donohue said. “It brings the neighborhood together at a special time.”
Every year, residents decorate boats and set sail through Tideway River in Seaford Harbor. Many participants have never missed a year, Donohue said. When times were tough, during Hurricane Irene in 2011, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and during the coronavirus pandemic, the parade helped keep people’s spirits up, he said.
“It brought the neighborhood back together,” Donohue said. “It gave them something to look forward to.”
In the past, no rain, snow, sleet, hail or bitter cold has stopped Seaford from celebrating the holiday tradition, and this year it was cold, but clear. The meetup and kickoff spot was the east end of Naomi Street. Boaters and residents congregated to mingle, eat and chat before the festivities began.
T.J. Koerner, Seaford resident and boat operator, has taken part for four years. His boat was decorated with a large inflatable Santa Claus at the stern. “It’s such a fun thing to do for the kids and the families around here,” Koerner said. “People in Seaford Harbor watch from their backyards and host watch parties.”
About 30 boat operators showed up this year. One was Scott Navin, a Seaford resident and longtime participant who promotes the event each fall with signs around the community. Navin said that there was no official founder of the event; boaters have always simply gathered and joined in.
“I just put a up one year, and every year it got bigger,” Navin explained. “We were sitting in my backyard one year, threw a generator on the boat and decided to go for it.”
The roughly two-hour-long parade runs through the harbor and circles past Seamans Neck Park twice. The boats also make their way through several canals in the Harbor.
“My parents used to bring my siblings and me a lot when we were kids,” Jessica Kofod, a Seaford High School alumna, recalled. “I haven’t for a couple of years, but it’s a really cool and unique event.”
“Most of us live on the water down here, so we watch from our homes,” Seafordite Christine Crean said. “[There’s] so much positive energy, and our town is very close-knit and connected.”
The boats varied in size and decorations, with the holiday themes of ranging from reindeer to snowmen. One displayed a leg lamp, inspired by the movie “A Christmas Story.” Another had a full-sized, fully lit Christmas tree at the stern. Another was adorned with antler-shaped lights and a red nose at the bow.
George Fontano, of Seaford resident, has sailed in the parade for 17 years in his boat “Ella Marie.” Fontano sported a green Christmas tree-patterned blazer, and his vessel featured a blow-up Santa Claus in an Army uniform.
Decorating a boat for the parade can be something of a challenge, Fontano said, because it’s time-consuming, and affixing lights can be particularly difficult, though the help of friends makes the task easier. He said he planned to rework the decorations on his boat next year. “We’ll change it up, but we also have Santa Claus up there supporting our troops,” he said. “But we’ll always add something.”
The parade, Fontano said, brings residents together for a Christmas-season tradition. “It’s a great way to kick off the Christmas and holiday season,” he said. “Everyone in the neighborhood gets together every year to watch this.”