WASHINGTON—Vice President Joe Biden, keeping up a tradition spanning nearly four decades, is back on the shores of Nantucket for Thanksgiving.

When Biden and his wife, Jill, began making the trek from Delaware, they were still dating. It was 1975, and Biden’s Senate office chief of staff recommended the island as a nice getaway. They would pack their two boys—and later their daughter and, eventually, their grandkids—into a car and take the Hy-Line Cruises ferry from Hyannis, staying in a rental house.

“On the drive up, Jill and I would help our children work on their Christmas lists,” Biden wrote in his 2008 book, “Promises to Keep.” “Jill would cook a big Thanksgiving dinner and we’d sit around playing board games, talk about life, and just be together.”

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Since he became vice president, the travel routine has become a bit more elaborate. He arrived Tuesday aboard Air Force Two, which landed at Nantucket Memorial Airport. The local newspaper documented the presence of a Coast Guard cutter patrolling just offshore.

Biden’s staff said he was unavailable to be interviewed. But if he sticks to his usual activities, Biden is likely to participate in the Cold Turkey Plunge on Thanksgiving Day, a dip into the frigid waters that benefits the Weezie Library for Children (photos of Biden at the event have shown him wearing a soaked t-shirt).

He usually drops into Murray’s Toggery Shop, a clothing store known for its collection of ``Nantucket reds,’’ those preppie pants and shorts that approximate the color of boiled lobster. He’ll stroll around town wearing aviator glasses and a USS Delaware cap. In one photo from last year, he’s sitting by himself on a bench on Main Street, wearing fingerless gloves and holding a paper cup with a straw. A photo in 2010 shows him walking down Main Street in a leather jacket with the vice presidential seal on it, and a football tucked under his left arm.

In fact, it seems he’ll pose for pictures with just about anyone who asks, always flashing his trademark toothy grin.

Biden has stayed in various homes during his trips to the island, but in recent years he’s been at the waterfront estate of Louis Susman, a former Citigroup executive and former ambassador to the United Kingdom.

In his book, Biden puts a Rockwellian sheen on the holiday.

“In the evenings after dinner the kids would go out for a walk and Jill and I would stay in and look after the little ones,” Biden wrote in in his 2008 book. “Politics seemed so far away from Nantucket those evenings, and my family was healthy and happy.”

While Biden may try to keep a low key schedule, those around him don’t always comply: A Massachusetts state trooper on Biden’s security detail in 2011 was accused of provoking a violent brawl that left other members of Biden’s detail bloodied and bruised.

In 2009, Biden’s thanksgiving weekend was spent mired in an internal Obama administration debate over the Afghan war strategy. Biden sent six handwritten memos by secure fax from a Nantucket rental home, according to Bob Woodward’s book “Obama’s Wars.” Biden left early, so he could be at a meeting with the national security team in the Oval Office on Sunday.