Sailboats, sun and sand call travelers to Nantucket during the summer months, but the tiny island offers other charms when a chill hangs the air. During the winter, you get Nantucket all to yourself — the tourists are long gone — and it’s about 10 degrees warmer than the mainland.
But what makes the trip there even cozier is the unique seasonal traditions. From a downtown that transforms into a storybook setting to Santa ditching his reindeer in favor of a boat arrival to the island, Nantucket does the holidays in its own way. Here are four reasons you should travel there this season.
The Christmas Stroll
This 43rd annual holiday ritual starts the day after Thanksgiving, when hundreds of decked-out Christmas trees along downtown Nantucket’s streets light up in a ceremony at dusk. While the colorful seven-foot trees lining cobblestone Main Street make the scene look like a setting from another era, the star is the talking 20-foot tree at the top of the road.
On Stroll Saturday, Main Street closes to traffic to allow for a stage of performers, roving costumed carolers and you a chance to roam about the shops, which usually serve treats like mulled cider and hot cocoa.
Take a break from shopping and head to the wharf. Just follow the Nantucket town crier, who will lead you to the Clauses’ arrival spot after he rings in Stroll. Santa and Mrs. Claus, who traveled there on the Coast Guard Cutter, walk down the wharf and then ride in a horse-drawn carriage to the historic Jared Coffin House to meet with children in front of roaring fire.
Stroll signals the start to Nantucket Noel, a month-long festive celebration thrown by the Nantucket Island Chamber of Commerce. Other events include cookie decorating at Nantucket Cookie Company, holiday-themed gin and wine tastings at Épernay Wine & Spirits and performances of writer David Sedaris’ hilarious tale of the plight of department-store Santas, The Santaland Diaries, at the new White Heron Theatre.
The White Elephant Lofts
One of the best ways to experience the Christmas Stroll is to reserve The White Elephant Lofts’ holiday package. Not only will you get to enjoy the apartment-like accommodations, but the spacious three-bedroom, four-bathroom residence gives you a bird’s-eye view of Main Street and its rows of picture-perfect Christmas trees.
To make the affair more spirited, the chic loft comes with its own cranberry-themed bar. It will be just the right aperitif before you and five of your guests enjoy a dinner at the waterfront Brant Point Grill.
The Festival of Trees
The fascinating Nantucket Whaling Museum usually showcases the island’s nautical past, but come December, a forest of more than 80 trees sprouts in the facility. Part of a month-long exhibit that kicks off the Christmas Stroll, the trees are decorated by locals, including shopkeepers, nonprofit groups and artists. Festival entry is included with museum admission.
The White Elephant
No other place better captures Nantucket than The White Elephant. Sitting on Nantucket Harbor, the gray-shingled, white-trimmed hotel gives you fantastic water views from a balcony or deck; plump, luxurious beds; and some rooms with an inviting fireplace.
The Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star hotel provides a Christmas Stroll weekend package that includes accommodations, a White Elephant ornament, mistletoe, a copy of A Very Nantucket Christmas by local author Nancy Thayer and some red sangria from Nantucket Vineyard (taste one of the company’s other pours at The White Elephant’s 4 p.m. daily port and cheese hour in the library).
For something more filling, go to the hotel’s Brant Point Grill. While BPG is a draw for its succulent local oysters with Meyer lemon, orange and pickled coconut, and its rich, creamy lobster mac and cheese with Vermont cheddar, there’s another reason to visit: If you dine there Sunday during Stroll weekend, you will receive half off of all food purchases. With all of those deep savings, you can return to the one-of-a-kind downtown boutiques for even more shopping.