For the past four decades, on every first Saturday of December, a festive holiday gathering takes place. The subtle, sweet scent of spiced cider and Christmas wreaths meshes beautifully with the warm tones of church bells and caroling. This annual holiday event, named Christmas Stroll, was originally created to get the Nantucket locals out of their homes and do their annual holiday shopping in local stores. This was merely an effort to get some end-of-the-season local business, rather than having families spend their money 26 miles across the Sound in Hyannis. Merchants advertised hefty sales and opened their doors with tables of wine, fruitcake, tea and hot chocolate while promoting their gifts and merchandise. This proved successful, and almost 45 years later, Christmas Stroll has evolved into a local holiday.
As downtown streets are packed all weekend, the Stroll draws hundreds of tourists to participate in this Winter Wonderland. Main Street is beautifully lined with creatively decorated trees that lead to a massive, magical, talking and brightly lit Christmas Tree. Carolers sing in various locations around town and offer a warm welcome to all those who have made the trip to participate in this historic event. Town is bustling with people dressed as elves, Santa, and other quirky Christmas costumes. “Strollers” stream down the street with hands full of hefty bags filled with gifts from the multitude of store-wide sales. The Nantucket Whaling Museum transforms into a winter haven lined with 80+ originally decorated, glittering trees. All sorts of other events take place during Stroll including craft shows, special holiday dinners, shopping and performances. A stage set up on the center main street is the hub for musical performances, featuring choirs and groups of all ages singing classic Christmas Carols. The Christmas Stroll Crafts Show offers a plethora of locally made, hand crafted and hand grown items for sale. Talented craftsmen and women display their creations at Nantucket’s longest-running and most popular crafts show.
Possibly the most exciting part of Stroll is when Santa comes to town. Santa Claus arrives on the Wharf and makes his way to the Jared Coffin House to meet all of the children. He then proceeds to magically ride through town in a huge red boat “sleigh”. A line stretches down Broad Street as families and children cheerfully wait for Old St. Nick.
Some find sweet nostalgia in Stroll, others are upset with how this “holiday” has changed. Much like everything else on Nantucket, the Christmas Stroll we know today simply fuels the tourist economy that the island runs on. Mike Girvin, who has been a Nantucket local for thirty two years, is more than disappointed with how Stroll has devolved. “I hate stroll. It used to be fun. It used to be only for local islanders thirty years ago, and that was the entire point of it. Everyone’s hammered and wearing over-the-top costumes. Honestly, I think it [Stroll] has lost its purpose. It feeds the fire of the greed of this place.” Girvin, along with many locals, are more than disappointed with the superficiality of the holiday. However, the action packed weekend is still appreciated by others in the community.
“There’s different discounts as well so it gives us a chance to act as tourists for the day.” expressed senior Tatiana Lemus. Long-time locals also appear to be enjoying the holiday, Tatiana described a woman who “has scarves since stroll started, so she has 45 different scarves!” The scarves she references have been a part of the Boat Basin’s Stroll tradition from the very start of the holiday. Despite some controversy among locals, the Christmas Stroll weekend has proven once again to be a huge success for business owners on the island.
By Freyja Feeney