Illumination Night

I  L  L  U  M  I  N  A  T  I  O  N     N  I  G  H  T

This was last night…. but first I have to give you a little history:  On Martha’s Vineyard, there’s a neighborhood called The Campground.  It began around 1840 as a Methodist meeting place; they came with their families every summer for years, camping out, setting up their tents in this location about a block from the sea.  After a while, they started building tiny cottages, with almost no space between them, where their tents used to be.  The Tabernacle (above) was constructed in the 1870’s, and is the center of the Campground; the cottages go all around it, with narrow walkways and “roads” just the right size for a horse and buggy, but not so good for cars.

The little houses are dripping with history (and gingerbread!).  Illumination Night started in the 1870’s when they began lighting up the Campground; the cottages are decorated with paper lanterns; the evening begins with a community sing in the Tabernacle and picnic dinners on the lawn; then the street lights go out; the cottages light up; and everyone strolls down the lanes to oooh and aah at the colors.  And that was last night! I took a million photos….thought you’d like to see some of them . . . Ready?  We’re going to get there early and get a good parking space.

I almost don’t know where to start with the photos!  The cottages are painted in the most imaginative ways, and they all have porches.  Look at that little detail on the screen!  And the curtains!  Someone loves this house.

Porches, paint, rocking chairs, and gingerbread . . .

  I really wouldn’t want to see Joe’s face if I came up with this paint scheme for our house.  Death ray eyes.  But I sure do love it when someone else does it!

Peeks at simple elegant cottage life.

The furniture, like the cottages, very big on charm.  Where less is more.

And more is fun.  But you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

This is where the truly festive people live!  Makes you feel normal doesn’t it?  So let’s go to the Tabernacle and sing!

On our way there, these two adorable people.  And now it begins . . . small town life at its best.  

Just so you know where you are now . . .

You’re in there, under the tabernacle…or you’re outside, playing on the lawn, throwing lightsticks around.  You’re singing I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah, Yankee Doodle Dandy; you sing B – I – N – G – O,  and you’re doing stand-up-sit-down songs with the leader of the band.

I think I see you!  And then . . . . . . the lights go off!  Everyone out of their chairs for the promenade.

Can you hear the crickets?  Listen, the dog’s name is Rupert and someone’s going to say Hi to him . . .  🙂 It was a beautiful summer night.  Up and down the narrow winding streets everyone goes . . .

The people on the porches love it as much as we do.  They get to people watch; we are the animals in their ever revolving zoo!

People go all out, it’s a gift! And we love them for it! 

Do you believe in magic?

On and on it goes, and then there are the little details . . .

Porches and pillows, screen doors and candlelight, lace curtains and wine glasses. Glimpses into lamplit living rooms and kitchens, cooking smells and clattering dishes.

And I will close with that.  I’d do more, but a.) you need to get back to work, and b.) I’m a little worried.  How many photos and videos can one post handle?  I don’t know.  How is this loading for you?  Do you have to wait forever?  Let me know. Hope you enjoyed Illumination Night, pretty soon you’ll have the whole picture of life on Martha’s Vineyard! Where the elves run ahead setting up little scenes just for your enjoyment, and the BIG elf, comes along behind and takes pictures of it.  xoxo

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179 Responses to Illumination Night

  1. ♥Duff says:

    amazing! thank you for taking me along for the ride!!

  2. Lynn Hamilton says:

    dear Susan, have been a fan of yours for many years; have several of your books, tea towels, calendars (which I always save) and am so enjoying your blog~I can’t believe you have time for it but thanks for making the time to share things with us; this view of MV is so special~have never been there~will travel there one day~enjoy the remainder of this beautiful summer~your words, photos, creations are all an inspiration~thank you.

  3. Ramona says:

    Absolutely love your blog! It’s something I truly look forward to. No trouble ever with loading. Thanks for the movies – wonderful! You’re a blessing to so many, Susan! And thank Joe for letting us all into your daily lives.

  4. Laura says:

    WOW!!!! I want to come! I love those porches & all those lovely lanterns! Just…. WOW!

    Love ya!

    It loaded lickety split!!

  5. Barbara says:

    Wow! You really live in a magical place don’t you? That was just fantastic! I really felt like I was there with you.

    Hugs XX

  6. Joan in Texas says:

    Wow. You brought a couple of tears to my eyes. Your photos and description of the evening was all so perfect. I read about these adorable cottages awhile back and how the owners go all out decorating them. I was a bit sad that I’ll probably never get to see them in person…..but now I feel I have! It was a perfect evening. Thanks for taking us along with you.

  7. Wendy says:

    Oh my goodness! What a magical place! Thank you for sharing this wonderful time with us……it loaded really easy and I so enjoyed walking along with you……..

  8. Beth says:

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful pictures. Reminds me of how blessed we are to have your blog. I look forward to it every day 🙂 Thank you for always making my days a little sweeter!!

  9. CAROL O. says:

    OH SUSAN…That was fabulous….thank you…oh my gosh…another reason for wanting so badly to go to come to your ISLAND…question…are the Cottages owned by families…do they live there all year long….??? or….are they only for rental in season??? Wow…I was so happy watching your Documentary….loved it…thank you….Beautiful…and what a tradition…How loverly….!!!!!
    Carol O. from California…..

    • sbranch says:

      Yes, they’re all privately owned, a few of them have stayed in the same families all these years. Originally the cottages were unheated, just camps for summer — but now some of them have had insulation installed and are livable in the winter. I think the campground is pretty much still a summer thing, but a few people do live there year round.

  10. kathya says:

    Everything loaded beautifully. What a wonderful experience!
    Each post makes me want to visit Martha’s Vineyard even more. Maybe someday………..

  11. Cathy in Golden, CO says:

    It loaded immediately! My husband and I loved the trip to the Vineyard. Thank you for sharing. We have a wonderful country – this USA! So many gifts!

  12. Cindy Maulin says:

    this is what makes the world go round…..people find comfort and inspiration in tradition and simple beauty..thank you for sharing this and all of your wonderful art, stories and recipes…a friend indeed….

  13. Clairellen says:

    Thanks so much, Susan…it was a wonderful quick trip to Martha’s Vineyard, such a magical place. Don’t know if you have even been to, or heard of, Bay View near Petoskey, MI…it is a whole community of Victorian houses originally built for a chataqua..the land is still owned by the Methodist church but the homes are now privately owned…it is like going back a century in time. You gave us all a wonderful little oasis in our day, like you do most every day. We do so appreciate you and your discerning eye!

  14. Becky says:

    What is it about viewing/experiencing certain beautiful settings, colors,light, whimsy, and the unusual that awakens the inner muse? Can someone articulte it in simple language? Delightful post!!! I am so grateful!

  15. Gina says:

    After my too long, yucky day at work and the housework piled up around me, you are an angel to lift my spirits and let me enjoy vicariously the beauty of the important things in life!! Thanks Susan <3

  16. Mischelle says:

    Oh Susan! Thank you for sharing!
    My daughters and I are determined to make it back to visit MV and when we do, I think we must plan it around Illumination Night! Could anything be more lovely? From what I can see in your photos and videos I think not! Thank you so much for allowing me to live vicariously through this blog! Love, love, love your books, this blog, Willard,…. Love you too!

  17. Denise Leavens says:

    What a treat this was! Thanks big elf. Keep up the great work. I am so glad you finally have a blog and are enjoying providing us with so much good stuff.

  18. deezie says:

    Hi Susan
    What a Wonderful Magical night. You are so lucky to enjoy that once a year. I have never seen anything like it. I have heard about that though. And I have seen those houses during the day. Wow, so fun.
    Thanks for sharing all those awesome pictures. Felt like we were all there.

  19. Sharon from Maine says:

    Susan this made me feel so good!! I felt like I did as a little girl walking downtown at night Christmas time when the streets were all strung with beautiful Christmas lights and the stores and shops all decorated. It was like magic to me and that’s how I felt looking at all your pictures and videos. Thanks Susan for all you do for us. I hope you know how much we all love and appreciate you!

  20. Pat Mofjeld says:

    Susan, have you ever contemplated having a magazine published–like bi-monthly? You could do artwork and travel around, taking photos and writing about places…??? 🙂

    • sbranch says:

      From your mouth to God’s ears….wouldn’t that be fun? Another reason to wish for a clone!

      • Pat Mofjeld says:

        I’m smiling–I often think that of myself, that I wish I could clone myself! And I’m–by FAR–not as busy as you nor do I have “fingers in as many pies” as you…but you could file the thought away for some day when you might decide to change your focus. I’m sure there are days you are tempted to turn off your focuses totally and just LIVE…My whole life my friends would comment on how much I get done, how much energy I have, etc. (you get the idea) I hate to admit it but I think I’m slowing down, or else I want to do less–and unfortunately it is at a time in my life when I feel a sense of time speeding by, that there are so many things I still want to do in life. I have times I feel I want it all–a clean well-decorated house, meals ready for my husband when he gets home, a nice yard/garden, well-trained dogs, time to read, knit, weave & spin, quilt, etc., and that is when I wish I could do the cloning bit because I can’t quite seem to have the time and energy to do everything I want to. Why, as I get older, do I realize one lifetime is not enough time to do all I want??? 🙂

  21. JuLee says:

    I have always wanted to attend Illumination Night. Love the history. I hear that the lanterns are “part of the house” and stay when a house goes to new owners.
    Your photos and video made it feel like I was really there! Thank you for that.
    Just order another copy of Girlfriends Forever for my sister! we all love your books – they add so much to our lives.

    • sbranch says:

      Thank you JuLee … yes, we were watching the owners of one house light the candles in their old old lanterns (most of them use electricity now) and we asked where they got the lanterns, he said “they came with the house!”

  22. Ginny Stanley says:

    OH MY GOSH!!!! I would almost kill for one of those cottages! How adorable they are! You are a very lucky woman Susan – but I’m sure you know you’re blessed.
    Keep the pictures coming. Loving your blog and can’t wait to see what’s next! Thank You, Thank You, Thank You !!!!!

  23. Susan, thank you so much for the tour! I enjoyed the Rupert video and seeing all the gingerbread and lanterns. What a fun time for everyone! No problems with loading:) Have a nice weekend! Twyla

  24. carol pfeiffer says:

    Susan, how sweet it is, you do a great job. We (your girl friends) are all so lucky to have you. I had no problem with the post or video, came right up. Enjoyed it so very much. My husband (Joe) and I have been to MV only once, but would love to come again. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Jessica says:

    This is an amazing post Susan! I had never heard of the Campground before and it completely enchanted me…and was just what I needed to see after an extrememley busy week. You inspired me to post about it, I really wanted to be there yesterday! You live in such a dream community there on the Vineyard…thank you so much for sharing it all with us…I feel all wonderfully, small town America now! 🙂
    xo J~

    Rupert’s such a cutie by the way!

  26. Mary says:

    Thank you sooo much for sharing this magical night with us! Wow! And the cottages are to die for!!
    BTW – the page loaded up just fine for me!

  27. Siobhan says:

    Oh my goodness…what a delightful slice of Americana I had no idea existed…no wonder you are so entranced with MV. And no worries on the number of piccies, we can stand all you got! Mine loaded very easily anyway. Cheers! Thank you!!

  28. Terrie says:

    You are such an angel to continually find ways to delight and enchant your readers on a daily basis, dear Susan! I hope you know how much we appreciate this most generous gift, especially since you could so easily bind up your thoughts and art and publish them for profit! This blog feels like a secret, special letter shared among friends . . . (btw, I usually check in with you every morning via iphone from my cozy bed, surrounded by teacups and lazy pets ~ I am happy to say that even my little iPhone pulls you in, clear as a bell and ever so quickly!) So, here’s to all of the SB parties going on ’round the world ~ a big “Thank You” to the woman who reminds us to find Joy in life’s every moment! LoveLoveLove, xoxo Terrie

  29. Jennifer says:

    I loved this! I rarely take the time to look at videos, but it was so worth it. I had my little girl come in to watch b/c I thought it looked just like a sweet girl’s fairy walk!

  30. Debra says:

    I really enjoy your blog. Especially this one April 20th. The Island looked beautiful all dressed up for the Holiday. One I’d never knew exsisted before today. Such fun in the small island and the people who live there must be delightful too. The traditions are so much a part of the life there it seems. Loved visiting with you this evening and I felt that I was there. I really want to thank you for making us (me) part of your adventures. It was great!

  31. Terry says:

    That was BEAUTIFUL, Susan! Thank you! My husband and I must plan a visit to Martha’s Vineyard. I have never been there. We are in North Jersey so the drive is definitely do-able. We were just at the Jersey Shore (LBI) for a week, and I picked up my favorite magazine “Where Women Create” at A.C. Moore, and spent a delightful week savoring every single article. I read the spread on you twice! I wish I could express how much joy you bless me with. Thank you so much for doing the work that you do! You are truly a gift from God. I have a special little girl in my life whom I am going to buy your new book “Pancakes” for when it comes out. She shares our love for all things relating to HOME.


  32. Sheryl from Foresthill says:

    Dear Susan,
    You are at the top of my homepage. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted you right in my face every morning, but now I have so changed my mind. I don’t want to miss a thing. Illumination Night at the Campground was a joy to watch. Life is good at Martha’s Vineyard.

  33. Funny, I didn’t get your updates on my sidebar over the weekend so I thought you took a day off.. and then when it said you still had not posted this morning I knew that could not be right. Blogger has hiccups..I am just glad I came on over anyway!

    You live in a fairy land! Oh to be your neighbor!

  34. Katharine says:

    Thanks for showing us such a magical place. I’m assuming that all the cabins are owned. Do the owners ever rent them out? What a great place and how fun to be on that walk.

  35. Janice Russell says:

    Susan, I have loved you & your work since I saw your first book when I worked in a bookstore many years ago. (I recommended your book to everyone who came in looking for a gift, or just something wonderful for themselves. I feel SURE some of your success is due to my promotion!) One of my biggest thrills a few years later, was one gray, rainy day when I dialed your number during a stay at Woods Hole, and YOU actually answered the phone & we talked about how sad it was that Jackie Kennedy had just died the previous day. I have saved the little note you wrote me after our phone call, all these years. We’ve met at two of your book signings at Bunch of Grapes, & you are the sweetest, most REAL person ever. You have a wonderful talent, loving heart, and generous spirit. No wonder so many people love you. I usually think I don’t have time to “waste” on blogs, but the time is definitely not wasted when I spend time on yours. Absolutely loved the tour of Illumination Night!

    Janice from Syracuse, NY

    • sbranch says:

      I remember when you called! I remember us talking about Jackie Kennedy! So nice to hear from you . . . loving how a blog can be such a connector! Thank you for all those book sales! 🙂

  36. Carolyn says:

    What a lovely party! A whole village decorated and celebrating. Thank you for taking us along. Someday, I hope to visit in person in the meantime Illumination Night via Susan Branch will abundantly suffice!

  37. suzy says:

    The old victorian houses in your pictures are very similar to the ones in Bay View, Petoskey, MI..same ideas re: religious organization..concerts, movies, education and it is all open to residents,visitors of the surrounding communities. BV is only for summer: it opens in May or June and all residents must close up and vacate their cottages by November.

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