The Nights Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes has been a Madison tradition and tourist attraction for 40 years and and the latest installment of the popular holiday event begins this weekend — the last weekend of November — and the first weekend in December.
“Going over two weekends it draws in a lot of people,” said Erin Kindle, the event’s coordinator for the second consecutive year. “It helps out local businesses by getting people to Madison shopping for the holidays. All of the shops on Main Street are decorated for the holiday, and people are excited to see them as well.”
This year’s event is a special one in that it is the 40th anniversary beginning this weekend on Friday and Saturday and then again next weekend Friday, Dec. 2, and Saturday, Dec. 3. Tours will run from 5-9 p.m. both Fridays and 3-9 p.m. both Saturdays.
Kindle is thrilled to have the opportunity to be involved again. “I love Christmas time and it’s a lot of fun. I get to see beautiful homes, and all the decor, and the history behind them, seeing homeowners talk about their homes with such passion, it’s incredible. I love it.”
There are six homes on this year’s tour along with four other downtown Madison historic sites and four hospitality locations that will provide refreshments and restrooms.
Two of the homes are west of Cragmont Street — a rarity for the home tours. They include the Taylor Home at 1010 West Main Street, which underwent almost a year of restoration by owners Rick and Cathy Taylor who maintained much of the historic character, and the McCrocklin Home at 906 West Main St., owned by Tracy McCrocklin, a shotgun house built in the 1850s.
Other sites on the tour include the Danda Home at 132 East Street, the Stark/Ray Home at 202 West Second St., the McWilliams Home at 315 Poplar Street and the Mires Home at 1010 East Street.
The Danda Home was built prior to the Civil War as part of a federal style duplex. Owner Patricia Danda owns the south duplex that’s on the tour that will display decorative collector items and holiday décor.
The Stark/Ray Home, owned by Thomas Stark and Edwin Ray, was built in 1825. It retains many of its original features including large doors in the front parlor and dining rooms, original fireplace mantels and woodwork.
The McWilliams Home, owned by Ken and Sally McWilliams, features original western pine floors on the first floor rooms and 11-foot, 9-inch ceilings while featuring many elements that combine both old and the new.
The Mires Home, owned by Theron and Jill Mires, was acquired by Jill’s grandparents in 1931. A 1887 map of Madison showed that it was originally a one-room house which additional rooms were built on over the years. The home retains many of the original features including woodwork, trim and mantle.
The tour also includes St. John’s United Church of Christ, which continues the tradition of having one downtown church on the tour each year. “The churches in downtown Madison are very historic and beautiful,” Kindle noted.
Additionally, there are three historic sites that are part of the tour — the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, Historic Madison Inc.’s Saddletree Factory, and the Masonic Schofield House, operated by the Masonic Heritage Federation.
There are also four hospitality sites — one being the Walnut Street Fire Hall Museum at 808 Walnut Street. The building was the original home of Walnut Street Fire Company No. 4 that’s now at Walnut and Third streets. It has now become a museum owned by Frank Taff. “The historic items that he has are amazing,” Kindle said, noting the collection of vintage and modern firefighting tools and equipment along with a 1913 Model T chassis and much more.
The other three hospitality sites are Lumber Mill Antique Mall, 721 West First St.; Old Thyme Marketplace, 801 West Main St.; and the Trolley Barn Shoppes, 719 West Main St. Additionally the Jefferson County History Center, 615 West First St., will be open with homemade gingerbread houses on display.
Tickets may be purchased on the nightsbeforechristmas.com website or at the Visitor Center, 601 West First St. Tickets cost $25 for adults and $5 for children ages 5-12 if purchased as a digital booklet, which includes the list of homes and their addresses and a QR code linking to detailed information. Tickets for the traditional tour ticket include a detailed booklet and cost $3 more. All tickets must be picked up at the Visitor Center and may be used on any of the four nights but each home can be toured only once.
With all that there is to see, Kindle said she “would highly recommend people doing it over both weekends or a couple of nights just to be sure to have time time to enjoy the home and not be rushed so that they will miss out on something.”
The Great Cookie Caper is also being held again this year at the Visitor Center in conjunction with the tour. All proceeds will go towards the purchase of sun shades for playground equipment at Hargan-Matthews Park. More than 600 dozen cookies will be made by volunteers — led by Marci Jones, who founded the cookie caper event and served as Nights Before Christmas coordinator for 16 years — before Kindle took over the Tour in 2021.
Tiffini Poling, Visit Madison Inc. office manager, said the cookie caper has become such a tradition that even out-of-town visitors come into the Visitor Center asking for the cookies. “You come in here, it just smells delicious,” she said.
Kindle noted the Nights Before Christmas Home Tour is done in partnership with Visit Madison Inc., the Jefferson County Historical Society, Historic Madison Inc., Lanier Mansion and the Masonic Schofield House. VMI is the coordinator of the event with donations going to those four sites. “It’s about making sure we’re making donations to our historic sites and our non-profits as well.”
The tour is a popular event, bringing long lines to the sites each year, and Kindle says that being the holiday season that adds to the interest in the tour. “People are excited to come out and see the lights. We have Madison Main Street all lit up that makes it very holiday spirited kind of thing. Not only just to see all the historic homes but also to see all the beautiful decorations.”