From December 3rd to 5th the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, will celebrate what has become an island tradition – Christmas Stroll weekend.
The stroll began in 1973 when local merchants, in an effort to boost the island’s economy, kept their shops open late on the first Friday in December inviting Nantucketers to do their holiday shopping on-island instead of traveling to the mainland.
Along with their crafts, books, clothes and wares shopkeepers offered samplings of wine, hot chocolate, tea, mulled cider, fruitcake, and holiday cookies.
That Stroll, billed by the merchants as a “Christmas Stroll on Main Street’ lasted three hours and was a huge success with islanders.
Fast forward thirty-seven years and that one night of holiday shopping and schmoozing has exploded into a weekend full of events that draws thousands of people. Whether you stay for a day or the weekend many of the island’s restaurants, inns, and bed and breakfasts are open for the stroll.
On Friday night get in the holiday spirit by joining throngs of people (with flashlights and maps in hand) for the Holiday House Tour visiting six of the island’s historic houses, some of them more than three hundred years old, beautifully decorated for the season with wreaths and evergreens. The tour ends at the Whaling Museum with the Festival of Trees, one hundred Christmas trees decorate in island themes ranging from lightship baskets to buoys to the Nantucket firefighters’ tree dripping with Fire Department badges from around the world.
On Saturday at the stoke of noon the town crier in Colonial dress walks down Main Street ringing his bell heralding the official opening of the stroll. At 12:30 Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive the island way – by sea – on a historic Coast Guard vessel surrounded by a bevy of Coast Guard men and women decked out in red life jackets and red and white stocking hats. After a horse-drawn carriage ride down Main Street Santa sets up shop at the Pacific National Bank where children (and children at heart) can have their pictures taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Learn about the ghoulish side of Nantucket town on an evening walk to several of the island’s haunted places with Nantucket Walking Tours.
If history is more to your interest then join the Nantucket Historical Association’s guided walking tours where you will hear about Nantucket’s years as a whaling port that supplied the world with sperm oil. And, how over a hundred years ago Centre Street was called Petticoat
Row because all the businesses lining the street were owned and operated by women. It was Nantucket women who kept everything going at home while their men were away on sea voyages lasting three years.
There is an abundance of activities to choose from that will fill your entire day or weekend; concerts, theatrical performances, ice skating, wine and beer tastings, book signings, open houses, and, not to be forgotten, the shopping. Nantucket has beautiful and unique shops and galleries offering art, antiques, books, leather goods, jewelry, clothes, and decorative things for your home.
Cold sea air blending with the scent of pine from the decorated live Christmas trees lining the streets, carolers and bell ringers in period dress performing in the square make for a gorgeous setting. The Nantucket Christmas Stroll is a lovely way to start your holiday season.
Nantucket Chamber of Commerce 1-508-228-1700, www.nantucketchamber.org
Image courtesy of Michael Galvin for the Nantucket Chamber of Commerce