COVID hasn’t canceled ‘the magic’ of Christmas in Odessa: 56-year tradition continues with outdoor walking tours
Todd Nelson has gone to Christmas in Odessa every year since he was a teenager.
Once he was old enough to drive, he would go on his own to see the historic homes decorated in garlands, ribbons and lights.
"I tell people that Christmas begins in Odessa, Delaware," Nelson said.
As a young man, he said he wanted to retire to the historic town one day. Five years ago, he was able to make that a reality. Now every year he gets to be a part of the 56-year tradition that he has loved most of his life.
"I love the town, the village, it's a tight-knit community," the owner of the Crouch House said. "It has a great history, and I want to be a part of the town's history. With that, comes Christmas in Odessa."
Despite many events across the state getting canceled this holiday season, the tradition of Christmas in Odessa will go on for 2020.
This year's theme is "Inside Out," so instead of people touring the inside of historic homes, nearly all Odessa residents will decorate the outside of their homes for people to take self-guided tours of the whole town.
The outdoor walking tours are Dec. 5 from noon to 5 p.m. When the event is over, a tree in front of the Old Academy Building at 315 Main St. will light up for patrons to see as they drive home.
"We are just really looking forward to sharing the magic of Christmas in Odessa with people this year," Carla Pyle, 21-year Women's Club of Odessa member, said. "The nice thing, the decorations will last the whole month of December, but the excitement and the activity, the magic of the day will only be from 12 to 5 [p.m.] the first Saturday [of December]."
Those who have a historic home will stand outside to answer questions and talk about the house, instead of allowing patrons inside.
Even though he can't let people in his home, Nelson is thankful the event can continue.
"I have a little girl that is 7 who helps me every year with the house tours ... She loves it," he said. "I am so proud of the Women's Club of Odessa for coming up with an inventive way to keep this tradition alive and not allow it to miss one year."
The Women's Club started planning this year's event in January, but then when the pandemic hit in March, the members realized this would make a big difference in their normal plans.
One thing was for certain: they were not going to cancel the event.
"I think it's a matter of people needing some normalcy. People need to experience some of the things in their lives that have been going on for a while, especially with many families canceling being with family for Thanksgiving and Christmas this year," Pyle said. "This is the opportunity to be outside in the fresh air. Rain or shine or snow, it's going to happen. COVID hasn't canceled this year's Christmas in Odessa or the magic of it. It's just going to be different."
Normally, the only houses that are involved in the tours are the historic homes. This year, all Odessa homes are participating in the tradition.
Nelson said some of the houses are decorating in themes. His will be "Winter in Wonderland," as a play off of "Alice in Wonderland."
Although they cannot enforce mask-wearing on the street, Pyle said the homeowners will make sure they are 6 feet away from the patrons. She said they do encourage people to wear masks and socially distance.
Free admission; donation accepted for scholarship fund
Admission is free this year, but donations would be appreciated to support the Women’s Club of Odessa’s scholarship program that benefits local students.
Every year, the club gives out scholarships to Appoquinimink School District students, funded from an endowment that is built from what they raise during Christmas in Odessa. This year, they will still be able to give out the scholarships, but they will have to "dip more into" the endowment than they usually do, Pyle said.
Donations to support the scholarships can be made online at www.christmasinodessa.eventbrite.com. Those who would like to mail a check can make it out to the Women's Club of Odessa and send it to P.O. 254 Odessa, DE, 19730.
More information about the event and scholarship program can be found at www.christmasinodessa.com and on the group’s Facebook page GFWC Women’s Club of Odessa.
If you go
- WHAT: Christmas in Odessa outdoor tour of historic homes
- WHEN: Saturday, Dec. 5, noon to 5 p.m., with tree lighting at Old Academy, 315 Main St., at 5 p.m.
- ADMISSION: Free, but donations accepted to benefit Women’s Club of Odessa Scholarship Fund
- INFO: www.christmasinodessa.com