Historic Odessa Foundation Executive Director Debbie Buckson said that she's always stunned to discover just how many people aren't aware of the foundation's 30-year Christmas traditions.
"We're not to be confused with Christmas in Odessa, which does tours of current homes," Buckson explained from her office in "The Bank," one of six buildings, eight out-buildings and 30 acres of property that the foundation owns. "We decorate the interior and exterior of one of our historic homes, depending on the theme of that year in addition to several other programs we offer."
Most of the year, the houses tell the historical stories of the Quakers who inhabited them originally. At the holidays, though, HOF takes a departure from that.
"We are all about children and literacy so we made a conscious decision about 30 years ago to step away from the historical story at Christmas," Buckson said. "So, every year, we pick a children's book and let one of the houses tell that story."
She explained that lots of classics—from Louisa May Alcott and Francis Hodgson Burnett to timeless Disney stories—have been reinterpreted through the framework of one of the houses. Buckson said they welcome suggestions and as long as the story fits a house and allows them to make use of the 6,000-plus collection of antique objects, they'll consider anything.
Since 2005, Middletown High School art teacher Brian Miller has been bringing these storybooks to life. He said that it blends all of his interests into one, combining art, history, architecture, theater and antiques. His goal each year is to create something different. He starts researching ideas in January, work-shopping and brainstorming with HOF staff. By early spring, he knows the theme and starts searching through the foundation's collections while also looking for items he can get on loan.
This year, he said he's having a hard time picking a favorite room.
"I like the kitchen because I could place two vignettes in one space but I am also pleased that the rug merchant scene looks so similar to ["Madeline" author] Bemelman's illustration," Miller said. "But, the center hall brought out all the 'awes' from the guides-in-training when they saw the 12 little hats, coats and umbrellas hung near the door."
Both Buckson and Miller are both just as excited about this year's associated programming as well, which includes the annual community-decorated Christmas tree exhibit, the hearth cooking demonstrations in December and two special, well-known guests.
The first event—aside from the tours that kicked off this week—is this weekend. "Antiques Roadshow" resident toy appraiser Noel Barrett will stop by Odessa on Saturday to present a free lecture on vintage toys and examine the foundation's collection of 19th century and early 20th century toys.
Page 2 of 2 - "This is fun and exciting stuff. He's the man," Buckson said emphatically of Barrett's visit. "I'm excited for him to examine our stuff and while I'm sure he'll answer questions, it's not the 'Antiques Roadshow' and we're asking that people not bring items for him to appraise."
The final event on the schedule pulls all the foundation's values and ideals into one event. John Bemelmans Marciano, the grandson of "Madeline" creator Ludwig Bemelmans will present two book readings in December. Marciano has taken up the "Madeline" mantle, becoming a book author and illustrator so that Madeline's story can continue. He now has four of his own "Madeline books, including "Madeline and the Old House in Paris," "Madeline at the White House," "Madeline and the Cats of Rome" and "Madeline Says Merci."
"I think it's very exciting because we finally have all the pieces this year," Buckson said, referring to the Marciano's timely visit coinciding with the "Madeline theme. "His interpretive intentions match what the foundation aims to do at Christmas time for literacy, children and families. We couldn't be more excited."