Nantucket might be on your radar for a summer vacation, but the island is equally charming in the off-season. While most local businesses close for the winter season, they remain open for the main tradition that kicks off the holidays: the annual Christmas Stroll. Held the first full weekend of December (in 2018, November 30 – December 2), it’s the chance to sip mulled wine, listen to carolers, see a talking Christmas tree and shop for gifts. And what better way to get into the holiday spirit than by stepping into a Charles Dickens backdrop? Here are five reasons to visit the family-friendly event.
1. Shop for Holiday Gifts
The stroll originally started over 40 years ago as an effort to keep residents from leaving Nantucket to buy gifts on Cape Cod. In an effort to encourage shopping local, businesses kept their stores open late the first Friday in December. The event now lasts throughout the weekend, and visitors can peruse the quaint downtown shops, plus a craft fair featuring local artists. Some stores even pass out treats (mulled wine, cookies) to shoppers.
2. Attend events on Main Street
On the Saturday of the stroll, Main Street is closed off to drivers, so pedestrians can participate in the festivities. Costumed carolers will be on hand to bring forth holiday cheer. An ugly sweater competition, a Christmas market, cookie decorating, ice carving displays, an art show silent auction and special tours are also on deck.
3. See the Christmas trees
Starting the day after Thanksgiving, hundreds of 7-foot Christmas trees, creatively decorated by local schools and businesses, line the streets of downtown Nantucket. But the king is the 20-foot tree at the top of Main Street. Each year, a local artist is chosen to decorate this tree, which also has magic powers: it talks to anyone who visits the Stroll on Saturday.
4. Meet Santa
How does Santa arrive to an island? By boat, with the help of the Coast Guard, of course. His arrival is signaled by the Nantucket Town Crier, who leads everyone down to the wharves to see him. From there, Santa and Mrs. Claus hop on an antique fire truck and ride to the Jared Coffin House library to meet with children. Santa’s elves also pass out hot chocolate and candy canes while kids wait for the chance to tell him their wish list.
5. Catch the Festival of Trees
Every December, the Nantucket Whaling Museum is transformed into a winter wonderland for the Festival of Trees. The month-long event features more than 80 Christmas trees, decorated by local business and organizations. And these aren’t your average decorations: past themes have included lobster buoys, Barbie dolls and strobe lights.
Where to Stay
One of the most romantic hotels in the Northeastern U.S., White Elephant is located on Nantucket Harbor within walking distance to the center of town. The hotel is offering a Christmas Stroll package, which includes two festive scarves, in-room mistletoe, Nantucket Sleighride local wine, and daily breakfast for two at the Brant Point Grill. (Order the New England Lobster Benedict.) Rates start at $2,145 for three nights. Use booking code: Stroll.