Victorian House Tours, a showcase attraction, will return for the 16th Annual Tamaqua Spirit of Christmas Festival after a few years' absense, complemented by one dozen special events spread over four days.

The festival is set for December 1-4 with the majority of events offered free to the public.

"We are also bringing back the craft and vendor show on Sunday," says Jean Ann Towle, chairman. "It looks like a full weekend of activities." The event will kick off with the Little Miss Spirit of Christmas Festival and annual Holiday Tree Festival, a decorating competition.

The tree trimming contest will see participation by Hometown Nursing Center, Tamaqua Beautification Association, Tamaqua BPW, Xi Delta Omega Sorority, Tamaqua Education Association, Tamaqua Leo Club, Tamaqua Middle School Student Council, Tamaqua Cheerleaders, Zion Lutheran Church, Stonehedge Gardens and Girl Scout troop 31106. According to organizers, trees will be decorated Wednesday and Thursday at the Gallery at the Tamaqua Art Center, West Broad Street.

Thursday evening will feature a Candlelit Walking Tour beginning at the area of the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce and Tamaqua Historical Society Museum at 6:30 p.m. No registration is required. The tour will be led by Dale Freudenberger, president, Tamaqua Historical Society.

Friday's activities include the Arrival of Santa Parade sponsored by the Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce. The parade will begin at 6:30 p.m. and will include the Claus couple along with the Little Miss Spirit of Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. The procession will stop at Depot Square Park to flip the switch to illuminate the park's light show.

Pictures with Santa will take place inside the Chamber office following the parade.

On Saturday, Breakfast with Santa will take place at the Salvation Army Regional Community Center at 9 a.m. and will include a visit from Frosty the Snowman. Registration and more information is available at (570) 668-6899.

An Advent Community Breakfast will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Zion Lutheran Church. Tickets can be obtained at from the Chamber at (570) 668-6899.

Also on Saturday, a student dance will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. inside the Tamaqua Salvation Army and will welcome 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

Saturday's main event, the Tamaqua Victorian House Tours, will include six stops and will be held every half-hour from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., comprised of eight tours of 16 persons per tour. There will be no tour scheduled for 12:30. The tours will begin at the Chamber office. More information is available at (570) 668-6899.

According to organizers, guided tours will take visitors to the circa 1864 Harlan House, 206 North Lehigh Street, historic home of Lucetta Cake Harlan, niece of the Hon. John Marshall Harlan of Kentucky, a Supreme Court Justice. Lucetta Harlan eventually moved to Denver, Colorado and the house has been owned be several families over the years. Since 2004, the Second Empire Mansard Victorian has been owned by Gary Price, recording secretary, Tamaqua Historical Society.

Also on the tour will be the 1873 Auchmuty House, 237 West Broad Street. The four-story brick Classical Revival apartment and commercial building was built by Edward Kennedy and served from 1916 to about 1940 as the home and office of Dr. John E. Auchmuty. He owned controlling interest in the 1915 Tamaqua Underwear Factory, forerunner to Morgan Knitting Mills. The historic building is owned by Steve and Liz Pinkey Behun.

Another stop will be the 1902 William S. Pugh House, 236 West Broad Street. The large, Gothic-style cottage served as the home of several families over the years, including that of Floyd Rarick, a depot ticket agent for the Reading Railroad. In 1975, the home was acquired by Edward and Donna Gursky. Today, it serves as the home of the Johns family, including Nathan and wife Stephanie Gursky Johns, and children.

The tour also will take guests through the 1887 Daniel Shepp House, 204 East Broad Street. The center-turret Eastlake Victorian was erected by Shepp, an early industrialist and key player in the development and use of electricity, working in tandem with Thomas Edison.

Shepp also helped to organize the Tamaqua Land and Improvement Co. , which opened the east end for development during the town's boom years. The historic building now serves as the law offices of Atty. Gary Marchalk and Northeast Pennsylvania Abstract Co.

Visitors also will go inside the 1801 Burkhardt Moser log home, the first home in Tamaqua. According to legend, Moser received 6,000 acres of land in the local area as reward for his participation in the Boston Tea Party. The post-Revolutionary War log cabin exhibits original logs, chinking, plank doors, floors and small-paned windows. The cabin was purchased for $33,500 in 1995 by the Tamaqua Historical Society to ensure preservation for future generations.

The tours will finish at the 1874 Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Passenger Station, Railroad Street, one of the first train depots to be built of brick. The depot also was one of very few small town depots to feature a full-service restaurant, operating until 1930, then re-opened 70 years later.

Today, the depot has been restored through $1.5M in grants and community fundraising. It includes a restaurant, candy store, and various shops. The tours will conclude with Victorian Tea in the gift shop.

Sunday's schedule includes a vendor and craft show to take place at the Salvation Army from 1-4 p.m. For more information, contact Jean Ann Towle (570) 668-3268. The day also will include performances throughout the afternoon, still in the planning stage, including the Christmas Angels, Rose Beck on violin and Kathy Rimm, guitar, at 1 p.m.; St. Jerome Regional School Music Program, 1:45 p.m.; the inspirational sounds of ICE at 2:30 p.m. and students associated with a local chamber ensemble at 3:15 p.m. There will be no charge but guests are encouraged to bring along a nonperishable food item to support the work of the Salvation Army.

The Tamaqua Beautification Committee will sponsor the annual tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Sunday at Depot Square Park. Afterward, visitors will walk to the nearby Tamaqua Community Ambulance Garage, Railroad Street, to enjoy the results of a cookie baking contest.

With gas prices expected to rise in the coming weeks, the festival committee says why travel far? There is no better time than now to make plans to enjoy all of the joy of the holiday season right in your own hometown area.

Others involved with the planning of the event include: Eileen Barron, Jason Boris, Linda Heigele, Judy Hoppes, Gary Price, Kathy Schock, Maria Montero Hoppes, Major Sharon Whispell and Linda Yulanavage.