In A Nantucket Christmas, New York Times bestselling author Nancy Thayer explores the complexities of family relationships and the ultimate love that the holiday brings.

By Marisa Spyker
December 11, 2013
Photo: Katie Kaizer

Told from the twinkling, magical, winter-white setting of Nantucket in December, this heartwarming novel follows Nicole, a Nantucket newbie who recently wed a former lawyer with a home on the island, as she struggles to bring Christmas cheer to her new household, much to the dismay of a less-than-enthused stepdaughter. Thayer, author of beach read faves like Island Girls and Summer Breeze (and a longtime Nantucket resident!), masterfully paints a picture of her hometown around the holidays. Here, she chats with us about her own Christmas traditions, her decorating philosophy, and her secret cocktail recipe that’s sure to kick off any holiday party with a bang.

What inspired you to write a novel that explores family tensions around the holidays?

Nancy Thayer: I believe that families are the heart of the world and the people who love us are our light in the darkness. I've explored family life in all my novels, because families are endlessly varied and fascinating. To me a family is not just a core of one idealized set, but all the blended relatives, step- and half- relatives, and even the animals who keep us sane when the humans drive us crazy, or the best friend who celebrates with us when we are alone. The holidays present a perfect time for family conflict, family love, and family memories.

You are a longtime Nantucket resident. What makes the island so magical around the holidays?

NT: Nantucket is a small community isolated in the middle of the dark ocean. When the gale force winds blow, our three lighthouses flash their beacons, reminding us that we are a place of shelter, warmth, and safety. The shops are modern, but the streets are cobblestone, the harbor only a few blocks away, and Santa and Mrs. Santa arrive on a Coast Guard boat. A four story tall Christmas tree stands at the head of Main Street and the town streets are lined with small, lighted, decorated Christmas trees. Many islanders leave after the new year to go south for the winter, so many goodbye parties are held, and much weight is gained! During the Christmas Stroll—a wonderful weekend of festivities I write about in A Nantucket Christmas—carolers dressed in Victorian costume sing on the streets and everyone, including the dogs, wear reindeer antlers and Christmas clothes. And on a clear night, there is no better place in the world to see the stars.

Can you tell us what Christmas is like for you and your family on Nantucket?

NT: I've been told I'm a rather exuberant decorator at Christmas—I love red candles, stockings hanging from thefireplace, heirloom porcelain candlesticks my grandparents used, silly singing animals (toys!) our relatives have sent us, and the biggest tree we can fitinto our house. We always hold a Christmas Eve party at our house with friends of all ages enjoying food, drink, and laughter. Later, our family walks to St. Paul's church for the midnight service, my daughter and I wearing holiday coats and hats…our one moment of the year to dress like "Little Women."

Now our two children are adults. For many years they came here for Christmas—in fact, our son-in-law proposed to our daughter on Christmas morning in front of all of us! (I thought I'd explode with joy.) Now we have three grandchildren, ages 7, 5, and 3, so we go to our daughter's house for Christmas (because Santa goes there, of course). But I still decorate the house and our celebration takesplace over several days, whenever friends are in town or can visit.  My husband and I always give each other gifts (usually books) and our two ancient cats receive, each year, fresh catnip-filled, furry, long-tailed mice.

What are you serving this year at your Christmas table?

NT: This year, we're going to our grandchildren's for Christmas, but I'd love to share my favorite party recipe, which I learned from a neighbor long ago. It's quite, um, stimulating, and very pretty in a cut-glass punch bowl.

Nancy Thayer’s Christmas Bowl Punch


1 package frozen peaches
1 cup brandy
1 bottle champagne
3 bottles Liebfraumilch wine


Soak a package of frozen peaches in a cup of brandy in the refrigerator overnight. Place the brandy-soaked peaches in the punch bowl. Add a mixture of cold champagne and Liebfraumilch wine, one bottle of champagne to three bottles of wine. Liebfraumilch is a sweet wine, so use the driest champagne you can afford. (A good Prosecco can be substituted.) Be sure when you ladle the cups to include a piece of peach for people to eat after they've sipped the wine. After that, they'll find the peaches themselves! It's best to triple this recipe for a party of 12 or more.