For the first time in more than a decade, the annual Christmas in Salem house tour will welcome visitors into North Salem to explore private homes that have been professionally decorated for the holidays.
The 31st annual Christmas in Salem begins tomorrow night, with a special preview candlelight tour of three homes. The candlelight tour coincides with the Dearborn Street Illumination, when lighted candles line the street.
"It's nothing we've been able to do before," tour organizer Darleen Melis said. "It will be so beautiful."
The tour continues Saturday and Sunday with 10 private homes, built in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, in the North Fields and waterfront neighborhoods.
"It's a return to North Salem — we haven't been there since 1996," said Melis, co-chairwoman of Christmas in Salem.
The tour, which draws about 2,000 visitors each year, is organized by Historic Salem Inc., a nonprofit organization founded in 1944 that is dedicated to the preservation of historic homes and sites.
This year's tour boasts homes in a variety of architectural styles, all decorated by local florists and interior designers.
A free trolley service will be available to transport visitors along the tour, which will also feature flags to mark homes and sites associated with Salem's native son, author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Hawthorne's uncle's house is on the tour, and markers will also highlight the houses where Hawthorne and his wife, Sophia Peabody, lived while growing up and while married and working in Salem.
Tourgoers will also receive restaurant and shopping discounts and specials on entertainment around Salem.
During the tour, there will be lectures and musical performances at Tabernacle Congregational Church on Washington Street, which is the tour headquarters. Attendees who do not purchase advance tickets can buy them there on Saturday and Sunday.
The proceeds from Christmas in Salem will be used to restore the interior of the Nathaniel Bowditch House, a National Historic Landmark where Historic Salem Inc. is located.
People can keep their program book for entry each day of the tour — an event that relies on 273 volunteer guides.
"This is a community project," Melis said, "and one of the biggest social events of the year."
What is North Fields?
One of Salem's oldest historic neighborhoods, North Fields is one of its least well-known. As the name suggests, the North Fields area was once home to pastures and orchards, as well as homes. Today, North Street and the streets to the east and west of it are known as North Salem. It is the first time since 1996 that Christmas in Salem has featured this neighborhood.
The tour guidebook features a history of the neighborhood.
Christmas in Salem House Tour
Candlelight Tour of three selected houses during the Dearborn Street Illumination, 6 to 8 p.m. Advance tickets required.
Ten decorated houses open for touring, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Ten decorated houses open for touring, 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where to begin: Tour headquarters, Tabernacle Congregational Church, 50 Washington St., Salem, opening at 10 a.m. Saturday and at noon on Sunday for day-of-tour sales. (Advance ticket holders may arrive at 11 a.m. Sunday.)
Getting around: A free trolley service is available to transport visitors to the different homes on the tour.
Benefits: The house tour benefits the restoration of the Nathaniel Bowditch House, a National Historic Landmark on North Street.
More information: Visit www.christmasinsalem.org or call Historic Salem Inc. at 978-745-0799.
Snow date: Saturday, Dec. 11, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.