The Christmas Ship

Bringing Holiday Joy to the Pacific Northwest

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.

The Lions Step In

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 60 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.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

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 gonna miss, that's for sure."

Fast Facts

During the two day cruise, Lions give away approximately 800 gifts to children and seniors. Santa also makes time to visit with the elderly and homebound during this event.

Location: Bellingham, Washington
Bellingham, Washington

Tips and Tools

Make It Happen: How to plan a holiday project.

Why did the club decide on this project? »
Lions learned about kids on the islands who couldn't get to the big cities to see Santa. So, they decided to bring a ship to the kids to kickoff the holidays.
How did Lions start the project? »
The Christmas Ship began in 1947. Since 1996, the Bellingham Central Lions Club has run the project, with help from the multiple district and Lions in Canada.
How do you fund the project? »
This annual project costs around US$12,000. We receive financial contributions from all over the lower mainland British Columbia and Washington State – and from residents on the islands. We also have several organizations that help fund the project.
What kinds of resources does it take to keep the project going? »
We give out 800 gifts. We also hand out candy and have clowns making balloons and entertaining the kids while they're waiting to see Santa.
Any special words of advice? »
It's a lot of work to make a large project like this happen. So, get several clubs involved to share the expense and the workload.

"This is a special thing, a big event that everybody on the island looks forward to every year."

Jack Giard,
Local Resident

"It melts my heart to be able to talk to the kids. It's an incredible feeling."

Rick Kowsky,
Bellingham Central Lions Club

"It gives Lions a great opportunity to share the spirit, and the ability to work together as two nations sharing the same projects."

Grev Edgelow,
Lyndon Lions Club

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