Christmas on Washington Island

By: Kathy Kelsey Foley, director on December 28th, 2011

By Matt Foss
I’m from Washington Island, Wisconsin. For those of you who don’t know, Washington Island is a small island located off the Door County Peninsula in the northeast part of the state. It’s a community of only 700 year-round residents and boasts the smallest school district in Wisconsin. It was a fun place to grow up with an endless amount of outdoor activities to consume the time, and seemingly every member of my family – immediate and distant – was within driving distance. 
Around the lunch table at the Woodson Art Museum, staff members have had more than a little fun with my hometown. Other than director Kathy Foley and curator of education Catie Anderson, no staff member has spent ample time on “The Island.” Through questions and playful ribbing, they like to pin me as a cross between Barney Fife, Garrison Keillor, and “Kenneth” from “30 Rock.” When discussing trips there, especially the one upcoming, I can see why.
On the Friday before Christmas, my wife and I will drive to Door County. We have reservations for the 4:30 ferry. Yes, a ferry boat is needed to reach The Island and because the ferry only runs a few daily trips during winter months, you need a reservation to bring a car across. That night, we’ll probably go out to eat with my parents, and I can guess where because only two establishments on the Island serve dinner in the winter. Later, I’ll probably frequent one of the local taverns to catch up with some of my former classmates. (My graduating class of ten was one of the largest in recent memory.) 
On Christmas Eve, along with my wife and parents, we’ll run between dinners at my mom’s side of the family and my dad’s side of the family, seeing a total of perhaps sixty or so immediate relatives, including grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins of various numerical value. For my wife, who doesn’t even know who her second cousins are, it’s mind boggling. Lucky for her, the food is always good and the drinks are strong. 
While yes, it can sound like Mayberry + Lake Wobegon + a New England town that hosts a “lottery,” Washington Island is a special place, and after all the years, it’s hard to imagine spending the holidays anywhere else. 
Editor’s note: Matt Foss is overseeing a variety of projects at the Woodson Art Museum. He received an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree, both in history, from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire.

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