The Ottumwa Courier

November 26, 2012

Kicking off the holiday season

Moravia Tour of Homes a family tradition for McDanels, Johnsons

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

MORAVIA — The Moravia Tour of Homes not only gets participants in the holiday spirit, it shows how the homes have changed through time from remodeling and moving.

The first tour of homes in Moravia was held in 1988, making this the 20th year for the event, since other activities were held instead for four years, such as a progressive dinner or buffet.

The town of Moravia was named for the religious sect of the same name in 1851.

“Families from Salem, N.C., established this town,” said Martha Ellison, a committee member. “They bought 40 acres from the Mormons, who were heading west. This is the only ‘Moravia’ west of the Mississippi [River].”

Today, the town of 665 people observes one of the Moravians’ traditions every year: the tour of homes.

“During Advent, they would travel from home to home and set up refreshments in the homes in the neighborhood and view their Christmas decorations,” Ellison said.

When the town began the tour of homes, the only other city in the area doing anything like it was Pella. Today, many more towns have started their own tour of homes, which have contributed to fewer people coming out to Moravia’s every year, Ellison said.

The Tour of Homes is normally held the Friday and Saturday of Thanksgiving week, but Ellison said the popularity of Black Friday shopping has affected turnout in recent years.

“For several years we had a Love Fest, too, which had the Moravian buns, which are like cinnamon rolls, and music,” she said.

The Moravian Star can also be seen throughout the community.

“It started out as a geometry project,” Ellison said.

The star was eventually adopted by the Moravian Church as a symbol of Advent.

“I would hope they become familiar with the town and know what the Moravian traditions are,” Ellison said of participants. “And they can get new ideas for decorating when they see the homes.”

The tour has become a family tradition for the McDanels and Johnsons. Matt and Brooke Johnson live just down the road from Brooke’s parents, Jody and Susan McDanel.

“Growing up, I always went with my mom on the tour,” Brooke said. “I know a lot of ladies in the church who went, and I know people have wanted to see my home.”

She said that interest is because of remodeling and new additions to the back of the house, and because people remember the house when it was situated a couple miles down the road past her parents’ house.

In fact, the daughter of the man who originally built Brooke’s house couldn’t wait to see what the Johnsons had done with her childhood home.

Olive Jean Tarbell’s father built the house for his new wife as a gift, she said. When the Johnsons eventually bought the home, a group of Amish carpenters moved it a couple miles down the road.

“I was born in that house,” Tarbell said while touring the McDanel home. “So I’m going to go home to see my house.”

The McDanels decorated with a “Holiday Home” theme, incorporating Santa Claus into every room.

Susan has helped friends decorate their homes in the past for the tour, but this was her first time participating herself.

“I usually put up decorations around Dec. 10 and take them down on the 26th,” Susan told guests.

Participants also enjoyed Tastee Tea, a visit from Santa Claus at City Hall, a tour with mules and wagons and more. All proceeds from the event will go toward Moravia Community Projects.

“I’m very thrilled to do it, because the money goes to a good cause,” Susan said. “And people are nice. It’s not like shopping on Black Friday. People are happy to be here. It’s a wonderful way to get ready for the holidays.”

Two other homes were also featured on the tour: Jill Prater, “A Quilted Christmas,” and Jimmy and Angela Stufflebeam, “Rock’n S Ranch Winter Wonderland.”