This Saturday, more than a dozen historic homes and buildings in Odessa, decorated for the holidays, will be open to the public for "Christmas in Odessa" tours and performances.
The event, which began 49 years ago by the Women's Club of Odessa, annually benefits local students by providing scholarships to deserving high school seniors.
"The first scholarship we gave out was for $100," said event co-chair and longtime Odessa resident Jean Hatton. "Back then, we saw a shortage of teachers and nurses and our purpose was to encourage more women into that."
Now, though, tour buses, church groups and fans of garland-draped doorways, twinkling lights and vintage embellishments annually flock to the one-day event, allowing the club to offer more students more money to go to school. Last year, the group—less than 40 members in all— gave out five scholarships totaling $10,000.
"We want to increase the number of students we help and the amount of money we give them but we won't know if we can until we see how much money we raise with this year's tour," Hatton said.
The only requirement to apply for the scholarships has always been the student's affiliation with the Appoquinimink School District: each applicant needs to be able to either prove residency or official attendance at a school in the district. That could soon change, however, thanks to one long-time tour participant's suggestion that the club open up the application process to the participants' children or grandchildren who may not live in the area.
"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. "But, my granddaughter will go to college next year and I know she could use all the scholarship money she can get."
Hatton and her co-chair Mary Homan said they would be happy to bring it up to the other club members.
"It just never occurred to us to open the scholarship up that way but we'll definitely consider it," Hatton said. "Our tour members graciously open up their homes year after year to help us with this after all."
BEYOND THE TOUR
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."
Page 2 of 2 - 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.
2014 PLANNING STARTS MONDAY
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.
"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."
On Monday, the club will get together for breakfast to go over the good and the bad that happens on Saturday and start planning next year.
"We think about it and plan it all year long," Homan said. "But, it's important to us because the whole objective is to raise scholarship money. The better job we do, the more money we can raise."
For more information about ticket locations, ticket pricing and event scheduling, please see the "If you go" box under the photo at the top of the page.