It will be like Christmas morning on Friday night in Salem, when Historic Salem Inc. reveals the lineup for this year’s Christmas in Salem Holiday House Tour.
The addresses in the program are kept secret until Friday at 5:30 p.m., when advance ticket holders embark on a candlelit tour that will visit some, but not all, of the houses.
“Friday night is the preview,” said Alyssa Conary, operations manager of Historic Salem Inc. “There will be four homes on the tour that evening, and then Saturday, there will be 14 sites, and Sunday, there will be 15 sites.”
In a city with a large number of old houses that are beautifully maintained by nonprofit organizations, Christmas in Salem is a chance to visit historical homes that are privately owned and are only open to the public on this tour.
“These homes are a part of our story, and the people who own these homes feel a stewardship and responsibility to share them with the city,” Conary said.
Historic Salem Inc. is one of the oldest preservation organizations in the country and was formed in the 1940s when local citizens banded together to save The Witch House, which belonged to Judge Jonathan Corwin, who presided over part of the Witch Trials.
A lot of individuals, businesses and groups are involved in organizing the Christmas in Salem tour, which is now in its 39th year and which Conary expects will draw around 3,000 people.
“It’s amazing to me how it happens,” she said. “I’ve worked in nonprofits for a while, but this is the first time I’ve been involved in something so highly collaborative, that reaches into the entire community.”
But not all the homes on the tour — all of which are decorated for the holidays — are private. The starting point will be The House of the Seven Gables, the home that inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel of the same name and is celebrating its 350th anniversary this year.
In honor of that milestone, the tour is dubbed “A Very Hawthorne Holiday,” and several homes with connections to the author will be featured.
“We have sites that are public spaces, but one that is a private space that was important in Hawthorne’s life, that people don’t normally get to see,” Conary said.
One of the public sites, the home where Hawthorne was born in 1804, originally stood on Union Street, but was purchased in 1958 by The House of Seven Gables Settlement Association. The group moved it to its campus on Derby Street, and the birthplace will be part of this year’s Christmas in Salem.
The House of the Seven Gables will also be on the tour with a limited version of its “Four Centuries of Christmas” tour, which will feature decorations recalling different historical eras.
“As they’re coming into kitchen, they’ll get that 17th-century feel,” said Julie Arrison-Bishop, special projects manager at The House of the Seven Gables. “It’s historically appropriate for each century in each room.”
The kitchen features “green, simple holly and pine cones,” she said, which had more to do with winter than Christmas, which the Puritans didn’t observe.
But by the time visitors reach the last room, which captures the Victorian era, they will be closer to a Christmas they recognize.
“We definitely upgraded some of our decorations for Christmas in Salem and put our best holiday foot forward,” Arrison-Bishop said. “We have more decorations than usual this year.”
Christmas in Salem features a different part of the city each season, and this year will focus on the Derby Street neighborhood that surrounds The House of the Seven Gables.
“I define the Derby Street neighborhood as anything south of the Common, east of Hawthorne Boulevard and west of Webb Street, which is roughly the boundaries of the tour this year,” Conary said.
Along with The House of the Seven Gables, buildings belonging to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site will be on the tour, but the rest of the homes are private.
“I think the dates of construction range on this tour from — the oldest, The House of the Seven Gables, is 17th century — up to Georgian, Federal and more recent stuff,” Conary said. “1908 might be the latest date of construction for a home on the tour.”
The decorations at each home are often handled by local groups and businesses, including Dave Eng’s Flowers, Flowers by Darlene and the Salem Garden Club.
“We as a garden club try to interpret the feeling of the house, the homeowner’s furnishings and everything, and try to interpret it through flowers, which is difficult this time of year in New England,” said Tracy Rubin, co-president of the Salem Garden Club, which was founded in 1928. “We go down to the Boston Flower Market. We research.”
Co-president Meg McMahon said that they decorated a modern condominium last year, and one member of the decorating team brought in containers, dishes and plates that worked well in that setting.
“Everything she had that she thought would be useful she brought with her, along with all of the live materials — flowers, greens,” McMahon said.
This year, the club is decorating a house on Derby Street that has ties to Salem’s maritime history, specifically the spice trade, and members are thinking of including fresh fruits with their flowers.
Club members may also try to evoke a blanket of snow with white flowers, and specifically white orchids, which they know are the homeowner’s favorite.
“What we’re finding hard: A lot of her plates and china and big urn bowls have blues and reds in them,” Rubin said. “It is Asian-themed. We’re hoping to find flowers to bring the blue out.”
While Hawthorne is the main theme for this year’s tour, Conary said she isn’t sure how different homes will choose to address that subject.
“I’m expecting we’ll see some 19th century-style Christmas decorations, but I can’t be sure,” she said. “It’s secret even from me.”
If you go
What: Christmas in Salem Holiday House Tour
When: Preview candlelight tour of select houses on Friday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., then all sites open Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Tour start, guide books and day-of tickets at The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby St., Salem
How much: $40 for all three days, $35 for Saturday and Sunday. Advance tickets available through the end of the day Thursday at www.christmasinsalem.org or by calling 978-745-0799 before 5 p.m. Tickets also admit holders to several lectures at The House of the Seven Gables and other events in Salem.
Transportation: Complimentary trolley available from parking locations all around downtown to the tour route