Every year, the Christmas in Salem House Tour in Salem, Massachusetts, offers visitors a festive glimpse into some of the city’s most historic private homes.
By Marie Adele Ware
Nov 19 2020
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Please note that businesses, attractions, and events throughout New England have been modified, closed, and/or canceled in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Please travel responsibly, and check with state guidelines and individual businesses and organizations before making travel plans. This year the annual Christmas in Salem House Tour will be offered as an online, virtual tour. For more information please visit their website.
Given that historic Salem, Massachusetts, is the setting for houses spanning four centuries of architecture, touring residences here can be an experience in and of itself. But during the holidays, the annual Christmas in Salem House Tour takes it to a new level, featuring homes decked out for the season with the help of professional decorators and florists.
I grew up in Salem, and this year I finally got to cross off one of the big things on my annual Christmas to-do list: attending Christmas in Salem, which celebrated its 37th year in 2016 with the theme “Carol on the Common.” The event allows visitors to tour a number of homes in a specific neighborhood, all beautifully decorated to evoke historical holiday spirit.
This year we were able to tour the homes around the Salem Common neighborhood, starting with a gracious welcome from Historic Salem at the Hawthorne Hotel. There, we received booklets that served as both guides and entry tickets to the homes.
The tour is designed to be walkable, but taking the trolley is also an option. Going through each house takes about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on wait time – as we got further into the tour, longer lines began forming). Although it was a brisk day, people waited patiently, including me (and I was grateful for my down coat!).
Although we went on the last day of the tour, there were still many people, young and old, enjoying the festivities. Around the common there were carolers and food vendors, and behind the Andrew-Safford House we warmed up with cinnamon coffee and an outdoor fire pit.
The Andrew-Safford House was our first stop. The house, which is located across from the Hawthorne Hotel, was built in 1818-1819 and today is maintained by the Peabody Essex Museum; the last time it was open to the public was in 1995. As we entered the living room, we were greeted by a magnificently decorated Christmas tree that towered over us (it reminded me of the tree that magically rises up in The Nutcracker). The house also featured a beautiful marble mantelpiece and early-19th-century wallpaper.
I couldn’t help but feel the Christmas spirit as we entered each house and saw ornately decorated trees, greenery, and crackling fires. Along the way we were greeted by tour guides, who helped direct traffic and answered any questions we had about the home’s history. We learned about the significance of the home and its architectural details, and the lives of the original homeowners.
Our last stop on the tour was the Joseph M. Parson House, built in 1897, where highlights included live music playing in the dining room. I was fortunate enough to speak to one of the homeowners, who said that the last time his family did the tour was 10 years ago (as each year features a different neighborhood). He added that one of his favorite things about this year is that visitors can choose one house to visit twice. Sure enough, on the back of my booklet, next to a little check box, it said “Bonus second visit to favorite house.”
The tour ran over three days: Friday night, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday afternoon. On the weekend there were special events such as live music and a lecture from historian Jim McAllister. I was glad to go during the day because it allowed me to capture the essence of the homes with my camera. (Note: Only press are allowed to take photographs at this event.) That being said, next time I would love to buy a pre-sale ticket for Friday night, when selected homes are open for a preview event. I can only imagine how pretty the trees on the common are at night, all strung up with lights, and Salem fully aglow with Christmas spirit!
Have you ever experienced Christmas in Salem? Learn more about the manyChristmas in Salem events and activities.
This post was first published in 2016 and has been updated.