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A Nantucket Christmas
By Leslie Linsley
Bulfinch PressCopyright © 2004 Leslie Linsley
All right reserved.
IntroductionA Nantucket Christmas
NANTUCKET ISLAND is a little patch of earth located thirty miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The island can be reached only by boat or by plane, and it is the isolation from the mainland that has been partially credited with keeping its natural beauty and charm intact.
Just seven miles wide and fourteen miles long, this little Spit of land in the Atlantic Ocean has managed to achieve a level of sophistication that comes from adapting to whatever is new and elegant while retaining an atmosphere of casual simplicity and its own traditions.
The island was discovered in 1602 by an Englishman, Captain Bartholomew Gosnold. Thomas Maybew later purchased it in 1641, and for the next two hundred years the island population grew and prospered into an established, self-contained community. In 1712 the first spermaceti whale was caught, launching an industry that helped to make Nantucket known throughout the world.
Over the years there were many setbacks: the discovery of petroleum put an end to the need for whale oil, and the Great Fire of 1846 destroyed a third of the town. As early as 1870, with the island's population at an all-time low and not a ship to its name, some inventive people began to promote Nantucket as a tourist attraction, a place to enjoy the sea air and healthy environment.
Nantucket has surpassed the wildest dreams of those first visionaries and is now a world-class summer resort. Today there are more than ten thousand year-round residents on the island, and the population swells to more than thirty-five thousand during the summer months. However, while it is known as a summer vacation place, it is the off-season that islanders love best.
In the winter months the island's community spirit is more evident than at any other time of year. Islanders know, or at least recognize, one another and no one is in any particular hurry, always taking time to chat with an acquaintance when getting mail from the post office in town, stopping at the Hub for the paper, or shopping in the local supermarket.
The winter brings out the characteristics of a beautiful New England town steeped in history. In this quiet season, Nantucket homes are beehives of creative activity. Entertaining is a big part of island life, and Christmastime on the island is particularly special. The community becomes extremely social during the holidays, when friends gather to catch up on each other's lives, share food, and gossip. Most homeowners take great pride in their houses and enjoy sharing them with others.
Nantucket has been named one of America's endangered places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The houses in town were all built in the 1800s and have been inhabited ever since. The annual Holiday House Tour, which showcases houses beautifully decorated for Christmas, gives visitors an opportunity to go into a select few of these private homes each year, some of which we have been fortunate to photograph for inclusion in this book. Many of the houses we photographed were chosen for their architectural and historic interest and their special decorations.
Nantucket has always stood for individuality and diversity in all things, and while many of the homes are antiques, there are other, newer homes that are decorated in more contemporary styles. These are represented here as well.
We have endeavored to show off our island at its prettiest, in December, when Nantucket looks like an old-fashioned Christmas card, as islanders take special care to decorate their homes with traditional bowers and garlands of evergreens, holly, winterberries, seashells, and pinecones. The shops in town are decorated as well, and Main, Centre, Federal, and India Streets are lined with Christmas trees that are ceremoniously lit at sundown on the Friday after Thanksgiving.
"Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go" is an old refrain that evokes images of Christmas long ago. Although we hardly travel by horse and buggy anymore, we still maintain many of the traditions associated with the past, especially those of small towns throughout the country. Perhaps this is why our island has become such a popular place to spend the holidays.
And so, during this particularly beautiful time of year, we invite you to participate in island living through our eyes, whether joining us at our annual Festival of Trees or on a Christmas Stroll weekend, eavesdropping on a holiday party, or vicariously experiencing the romance and nostalgic qualities of Christmas in a quaint, historic village-if only for a little while.
Excerpted from A Nantucket Christmas by Leslie Linsley Copyright © 2004 by Leslie Linsley. Excerpted by permission.
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