In parts of the world, Santa arrives by sleigh, slides down chimneys or walks through front doors. But for people living in small island communities in the Pacific Northwest, access to the mainland is limited – and children rarely have the chance to visit Santa.
Lions Clubs in the Pacific Northwest saw the need and wanted to do something to make the holidays happier. “The kids on the islands didn’t have transportation to and from the big cities,” according to Don Wight of the Bellingham Lions Club. “One of the islands asked if a boat that had lights on it could possibly come out to the islands with candy and toys for the kids.”
That marked the beginning of the Christmas Ship. Every December for the past 70 years, Santa has suited up and stepped off the Christmas Ship to bring gifts and joy to people living in remote islands off the coast of Bellingham, Washington in the United States and British Colombia, Canada.
Today, Lions dressed as pirates, elves, clowns and Santa all climb aboard the Christmas Ship to create a unique holiday experience. Dozens of Lions clubs throughout Washington and British Columbia collaborate to make the project a success. “It just is inspiring to everybody there. Everybody feels it,” says Judy Portas of the Abbottsford Lions Club. “It’s just a vibration and they all cheer and wait. So it’s just a great, great experience.”
Almost all of the islands that the ship visits are home to a Lions club. And every island offers its own brand of hospitality – from bagpipes to bonfires to a fire truck escort. “It’s certainly well received on the island,” says Harry Lane of the Main Island Lions Club. “It’s an event nobody’s going to miss, that’s for sure.”
Join the Lions club on Dec. 15, at noon- 1 p.m. at the Orcas Ferry Landing to welcome Santa and the holidays to our magical island. There will be all the usual pirates and clowns and best of all Santa. The Orcas Island Lions wants to thank Ron and Mary Russell from the Orcas Village Store for providing the refreshments, San Juan County and the Washington State Ferries for the use of the building, Islands Sounder, Orcas Issues and the Orcas Chamber of Commerce for publicity and all the volunteers that come out to greet the holidays. We now have expanded parking at the WSF Park and Ride but it is still limited so arrive early.