Updated August 16 at 2:20 pm
If you don’t like crowds, Illumination Night in Oak Bluffs was the wrong place to be Wednesday. If you enjoy being around happy, smiling people — well, you came to the right place.
Thousands of people crowded into the narrow streets of the Campgrounds to see this year’s version of the event. Cottages were decorated with a colorful array of lanterns ready to be lit — and once they were, at around 8:45 — there was wonder and awe of the traditional event that dates back to 1869.
The Vineyard Town Band and choral singers provided entertainment. At one point early on in the evening, the group of singers serenaded diners at Nancy’s — finishing off their performance by inviting those sitting in the restaurant to join the revelry in the campgrounds.
Not to be outdone, some of the people enjoying the warm summer breeze and spectacular sunset aboard their boats also decorated with lanterns.
Each lantern is unique and has its own story to tell. Many of the lanterns are inherited and come with the cottages when purchased, or are simply passed down through the generations. Cottage owners preserve the tradition year after year, and give us a glimpse of their vibrant history.
A lantern with a big, blue star topped Bob Beal’s cottage, Sunshine Daydream, like a star atop a Christmas tree. Stationed on a lawn chair surrounded by friends and family, drinking wine and snacking on cheese, Beal said the star represents active duty for his son, who serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard. “We bought this cottage as an investment to be able to send [John] to the academy,” he said. They come to the Island six to nine months out of the year, and spend the rest of their time in Hingham, but Illumination Night has become a part of their tradition in the way it has for so many other Islanders as well: “Part of the excitement is carrying it on. It’s community.”
A couple of cottages down, Amaryllis Glass was rushing out the door to play piano at the Tabernacle for the band performance. Her husband Paul showed off the lanterns they’ve accumulated over the years. They inherited most of their lanterns from Tom Surr, who lived across the circle from them. Some are over 100 years old, Glass said. Others were newer, like the hand-painted Boston Red Sox lanterns, which he claims brought the team good luck. His Yankee fan neighbors weren’t so sure.
Updated with more photos and interviews from Wednesday’s event. – Ed.