For Ginny and Arthur Hetherington, the annual Grand Illumination Night is no casual matter. Not only are their Chinese and Japanese lanterns serious competition for other cottagers at the Camp Ground, the couple has created their own tradition. Since 1992, Mrs. Hetherington has hand sewed 1860s dresses and suits for the big night. The Hetheringtons and friends then march in costume through the aisles and rows of people at the Tabernacle during the band concert and Community Sing. Charlie and Candice Evans joined the Hetheringtons this year. Mrs. Evans wore a long, white Victorian dress and her husband wore a top hat, coat and carried a cane. The outfits were reminders of the first Grand Illumination held in 1869, in honor of the visiting Massachusetts governor and established by the original cottage developer Erastus Carpenter.

Diane Clayton had the honor of lighting the first lantern. — Mark Lovewell

“It takes you back in time,” said Mrs. Evans of the evening as she listened to the Vineyard Haven Band play.

The band performed patriotic music with accompaniment from pianists Stefan Young and Amaryllis Glass. From the opening number, I’ve Been Working on the Railroad, the community — in the Tabernacle, picnicking on the grass and standing on the many, many porches — clapped their hands and stomped their feet to the music. A community offering followed.

Every year, a member of the cottage community is chosen to light the first lantern onstage at the Tabernacle. The member is chosen in secret by the Camp Meeting Association members. This year’s honor went to longtime resident, Diane Clayton.

“It’s the wonderful sense of community here that I find so special,” Ms. Clayton told the crowd. “I can’t walk into town without running into a million people!”

Porches were beacons of light throughout the Camp Ground. — Mark Lovewell

The lights in the Tabernacle were turned off for the official lighting of the first lantern by Ms. Clayton. Then association music director Bob Cleasby picked up the lantern, walked down the center aisle, and hung it at the entrance of the Tabernacle. Immediately, in unison, lanterns were lit all through the Camp Ground.

For many families, like the Hetheringtons, the night was comfortable and predictable in its traditions. However for Matt Laderer, the event was brand new. While looking for a vacation home to rent earlier this year, Mr. Laderer’s friend Kevin Dahl and husband Ray Point found a cottage in Trinity Park while surfing listings on Airbnb. When they arrived on the Island, the cottager’s owner handed them some lanterns with the instructions not to light them until Wednesday night when everyone else did.

Not only was it his first Illumination Night, Mr. Laderer said it was the first time he experienced something so steeped in tradition.

“This is my first true experience of Americana. It is truly unique.”

More pictures of Illumination Night.