For one day in December, for nearly 50 years, people have been flocking to the tiny town of Odessa to see a collection of historic homes decorated for the holidays.
Organized by the Women's Club of Odessa, the "Christmas in Odessa" tour began as a way to raise money for a scholarship for nurses and teachers. The philanthropic goals have grown with the tour—the club now awards five $2,000 scholarships to local students who are encouraged to study anything they're interested in—and what was once a handful of decorated buildings has grown to include nearly 20 private residences and historic buildings.
"We've been participating, on and off, in the tour since 1976," said Joan Mason, who lives on Main Street in the John Zelefro Crouch House with her husband, Martin. Built in 1854, the home is now full of antiques passed down through the Mason family as well as art and furniture collected while living in Japan for many years.
The tour itself requires a ticket but there are also more than a dozen performances scheduled for the same day which are free and open to the public, including carols by the First State Chorale, traditional hymns played on the antique church organ at Old Saint Paul's Church as well as a performance by the First State Bell Ringers.
"The 'Bell Ringers' are just amazing," said Homan. "They are other groups out there but once you hear them, you know they're the best. I always look forward to them."
The day also includes an antique show and sale at the Odessa Fire House, a fresh greenery sale in the Wilson Barn and a Christmas shop at the Old Academy Building.
"We also host a tea on the first floor of Old Saint Paul's Church," Hatton added. "We'll have cookies and drinks and it's completely free."
Another highlight of the tour that actually lasts long after the last candle is extinguished Saturday night is the commemorative postmark available at the Odessa Post Office. Each year, a new stamp is created and visitors are encouraged to bring their mail in so it can be stamped with the large Christmas postmark. This year's version was created by R.J. Reynolds and shows Cantwells Tavern.
Odessa Post Office Window Clerk Terri Johnson said that patrons can bring their mail to the post office to be stamped with the special postmark through Tuesday, Jan. 7.
"We do it for exactly one month," Johnson explained just as the stamp arrived on Tuesday, offering the first look at the newly minted "Christmas in Odessa" commemoration.
Depending on the weather, Homan said they could see as many as 1,500 visitors come through the tiny town. She knows of five bus tours making the trek and is hopeful that more local residents will stop by as well.
Page 2 of 2 - "It's such a lovely day and I look forward to it every year," Homan said. "There's nothing I don't enjoy, from helping our participants decorate beforehand to getting to listen to the performances at the church while I work the tea."