Christmas Ships light up Lake Washington

Madison Park celebrates longtime holiday tradition

Christmas Ships light up Lake Washington

Christmas Ships light up Lake Washington

The rain let up long enough this year for a fleet of Christmas ships to pull up near Madison Park Beach and treat longtime spectators to dazzling lights and carols sung by the Kirkland Choral Society.

Madison Park has celebrated Christmas with lighted ships and visits from Santa for at least 70 years.

“There used to be a sort of cruise boat called the Silver Swan that would just be decorated up,” said longtime resident Jim Hagan during this year’s event on Dec. 16.

Hagan has watched the ships role in for those 70 years, and later in life volunteered with the onshore celebration. He works part-time at Madison Park Hardware, which his son, Adam, bought from Lola McKee in 2010.

“It’s fun to see all the people I know,” Hagan said of the Christmas Ships and Santa celebration. “I’ve been helping in some shape or form for more years than I can remember. Nobody could survive without my hot chocolate.”

Argosy Cruises has been leading a fleet of illuminated ships for its Christmas Ship Festival since 1949. The Spirit of Seattle is the official Christmas Ship, and is followed by a parade of local boaters, as well. A portion of the Christmas Ship proceeds go to The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.

Windermere Real Estate took the lead again this year in planning neighborhood festivities, which included a visit and photos with Santa at the Madison Park Bathhouse.

There was a new Santa this year, the longtime St. Nick having relocated to California. Organizer Cheryl Jones, office administrator and transaction coordinator with Windermere in Madison Park, said she found one through NORPAC Santas, an organization of professional Kris Kringles.

“It was like Santa online dating,” Jones said.

This Santa brought his own photographer and a smartphone app that can tell whose been naughty or nice.

“Everyone seems to be nice this year,” Jones said.

Longtime Madison Park resident Kit McGarry brought out her large family for a photo with Santa. The 95-year-old confirmed the celebration has been going on for at least 70 years.

“I’ve been doing this since he was 2 years old,” McGarry said, referring to her son, Pat. “He’s 72 now.”

The annual event has changed somewhat over 70 years, with many lamenting the downsizing of the beach bonfire.

“The bonfire used to be a lot bigger,” Pat McGarry said. “You were always getting your clothes burned.”

Hagan said one year the power went out in Madison Park for an entire week, so he made his hot chocolate for the celebration with a separate bonfire.

The Madison Park Community Council took care of marketing for the event, including putting up flyers all over the neighborhood.

“We went to every business and up the hill as far as Lake Washington Boulevard,” said MPCC president Karen Kane.

Parkshore and NW Sports Rehab donated food. Chiropractic physician Dr. Dan Michael ladled out spiced hot cider and purchased cookies from Madison Park Bakery, and the Madison Park Starbucks donated coffee for the event.