Recently, I was discussing holiday travel with some friends who are forsaking family and tradition to go whale watching in Hawaii. Their plans sound wonderful and certainly make me want to visit the islands again, but I am one of those for whom “Mele Kelikimaka” just doesn’t translate into “Merry Christmas.” Still, the idea of something both traditional and out of the ordinary is very appealing. So, off I went to try and marry “island style” with “happy holidays.” I think I struck gold on scenic Nantucket Island. Given the blend of architecture – from Quaker to Federal and Greek Revival – I can’t imagine a community with better “bones” to dress in holiday finery. Add in a rich history, fantastic cuisine, friendly folks and maybe a bit of snow, and you’re certain to have a holiday to remember.
Nantucket during the holidays is about as picturesque as it gets: new fallen snow dusting cobblestone streets as they wind past homes and storefronts gaily decorated with trees, lights and garland, warm glows pouring through frosted windows while sea air mingles with aromatic wood smoke. As church bells and choirs in Victorian dress fill the air, friends and family bustle through the shops and you feel as though you’ve stepped right into a Christmas carol.
New England’s finest traditions come alive during the holidays, marked by Nantucket Noel, a month long holiday celebration that begins with Thanksgiving and lasts until New Year’s Day. The festivities begin with a bang on the day after Thanksgiving when more than 150 trees transform the historic downtown into a holiday fantasy land during the annual Christmas Tree lighting. Carolers from throughout the community fill the air with the familiar sounds of an old fashioned Christmas. There are theatrical and choral performances, concerts, holiday exhibitions, and craft shows through New Year’s Day as Nantucket Noel continues.
The Annual Christmas Stroll Weekend is the centerpiece of the holidays, ushering in December with festivities throughout Nantucket. Carolers in Victorian costumes, bell ringers and musicians stroll through town as shoppers browse through the island’s unique shops and boutiques. On Saturday, hot drinks, food, crafts and games are featured in the European style Christmas Market and, in what may be the most unique entrance, Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive on a Coast Guard vessel at Straight Wharf. From there, the Town Crier escorts them to a horse and carriage which takes them up Main Street to the historic Jared Coffin House where they meet with children of all ages.
The Nantucket Sleigh Ride, a hop-on/hop-off shuttle service takes visitors around the island to enjoy cooking demos, activities and shopping wherever they like and catch the next shuttle that comes around. And the 19th annual Festival of Trees kicks off during the Christmas Stroll Weekend, transforming the Whaling Museum into a magical wonderland with over eighty trees beautifully decorated by locals, businesses and non-profit groups in Nantucket.
The Christmas Stroll happens each year on the first weekend of December. A complete list of events can be found at the Nantucket Chamber of Commmerce, who also produced a video of the Christmas Stroll.
Read more about Nantucket Noel and Christmas Stroll:
- CapeCod.com: 41st Annual Nantucket Noel (2014)
- Town & Country Magazine: A Very T&C Holiday Tradition: Nantucket’s Christmas Stroll
- Nantucket Blackbook: Home for the Holidays
- Forbes: Your Guide to the 40th Annual Nantucket Christmas Stroll (2013)
Photos by Michael Galvin.