How One Town Preserves Its Community Spirit During the Holidays

A small island 30 miles out to sea, Nantucket offers windswept beauty and the promise of an amazing summer vacation. But as autumn rolls into this charming New England community, year-round inhabitants celebrate the splendor of reconnecting with the quiet season. Although most people associate Nantucket with summer, the island blossoms again during the holiday season. Island celebrations — including a tree-lighting ceremony, Christmas Stroll, the red ticket tradition, and festivals of trees and wreaths — delight islanders and visitors alike, celebrating a feeling of home for the holidays.

Every November, the island lines its downtown with Christmas trees, each one decorated by an elementary school class or a local nonprofit. The day after Thanksgiving, Nantucket’s community gathers for a tree-lighting ceremony downtown. This kicks off the holiday season with hot chocolate and hugs rather than with Black Friday deals. The following weekend, tourists return for the annual Christmas Stroll. Restaurants and shops that are closed for the winter reopen, and holiday shoppers take to Main Street to support local businesses. During this festive weekend, Santa delights children as he arrives on the island by boat, and carolers take to the streets dressed in Dickensian attire.

Throughout the holiday season, shoppers collect red tickets given out by the local Chamber of Commerce. Every time a visitor or islander spends $25, they receive one red ticket. Then, on Christmas Eve, Main Street shuts down, and the community gathers again to celebrate the holiday. People pack into town, and everyone pops out of their shops to participate. The town crier randomly selects red tickets during the annual drawing, and community members win monetary prizes, which they often donate to island charities. Crowds also gather at the Nantucket Whaling Museum to celebrate both the Festival of Wreaths, a silent auction of 80 elegant holiday wreaths, and the Festival of Trees, which shows off evergreen displays decorated by local organizations.

Each one of these island events captures the beauty of the season, reflecting a shared emphasis on local connection and community appreciation. Because Nantucket is an island unto itself, it turns within to find meaning, setting an example for every town that wishes to celebrate their community in December.

Image source: Flickr/Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism