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Colonial Christmases offer history, tradition
Fort Morris, Midway Museum focus on this areas past
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A woman in colonial dress teaches a visitor to play an 18th century game of catch during A Colonial Christmas at Fort Morris on Saturday. - photo by Danielle Hipps

Liberty Countians and visitors got a chance to learn the history of Fort Morris and the Midway Museum while celebrating the holidays on Saturday.

At the 52nd annual Midway Museum Christmas Tea, staff and volunteers in Colonial dress offered tours of the historic house replica before ushering them to the basement for tea service.

Guests chose from a variety of Hale Tea samples, from a strawberry and vanilla-laden rooibos to a delicately sweet green tea cherry blossom, and nibbled on bite-size “dainties” from lemon cookies to scones and walnut tarts.

The event holds many purposes, according to executive director Diane Kroell. It offers a glimpse into the past of what Christmas was like and raises money for the museum.

“(Christmas) was such a collaborative effort by everyone involved, men folk went out and killed the game and brought it back, and then the ladies prepared the food all day, and they served it. It was really more about community and working together and sharing the fruits of your labors,” said Dr. C. Martelia Cunningham, state regent of Georgia’s Daughters of American Colonists.

Richmond Hill residents Ginny Lovell, Bernadee Randall and Robin Abbott attended to get ideas for their own Tour of Homes tea. And the Midway tea was quite inspiring, they said.

Like many other visitors, the women were surprised to learn that the house is not a true colonial structure, but a replica.

The structure, patterned after the likeness of the Riceborough Stage Coach Inn as sketched by British naval officer Capt. Basil Hall during an 1828 trip through Georgia, was completed in 1959 under the direction of historical architect Thomas G. Little.

“I really enjoyed it,” Lovell said. “Going through the museum actually puts you into the atmosphere of that time period … I felt like I was back in the day.”

The women reveled in the museum’s ambience and commended the staff for offering an in-depth look at the area’s history.

And while the tea offered a change of pace for the women, the event was like a miniature getaway, they said.

“You don’t have to travel far to have a history lesson. We came, what, about seven miles?” Abbott said with a laugh.

At Fort Morris, the annual Colonial Christmas kicked off just before sunset, with revelers in both modern dress and colonial costumes gathering on the lawn overlooking the marshes for games and weapons demonstrations.

Park manager Arthur Edgar and his wife Debbi have hosted the event since they moved to the site in 1998, Arthur Edgar said.

“The late 18th century colonial period with the Revolutionary War is a neat time for Christmas,” he said. “It will hopefully add a little bit to that Christmas-y feeling … friendship, love, getting together, sharing the season, and not so much the commercialism of it.”

The Edgars welcomed an estimated 100 visitors with a historical presentation.

“We hope you feel like you are stepping back in time to a simpler way of celebrating Christmas,” Debbie Edgar said. “In the 18th century, Christmas was a celebration that was ‘Christ mass.’ It was celebrated by going to church and by friends and families getting together.”

During the early development of the colonies, people did not exchange gifts, she said. Once the tradition began, parents gave gifts to their children and workers or slaves as a way to thank them for their service.

She spoke about how the church deliberately distanced itself from the pagan winter solstice celebration and about of the origins of trees, lights and festive flora before introducing Pastor Jeremy Lormis, who shared the biblical account of Jesus’ birth.

Savannah musician Jamie Keena led the group in singing classic and modern Christmas carols, including “Silent Night” and “Noel.”

As the crowd concluded the first verse of “Joy to the World,” re-enactors Dave Swinford and Morgan Boesche lit their canons and fired muskets in celebration of the “good news” associated with Christ’s birth.

Guests were treated with wassail, a drink similar to apple cider, and sweets of the era, such as a yule cake, plum pudding and Shrewsbury cakes.

After serving refreshments, volunteers led visitors in traditional colonial dances, such as the circle dance, which is meant to introduce strangers, and the Virginia reel, which was said to be President George Washington’s favorite dance.

Richmond Hill couple Guy and Wendy Piatti attended to revel in the holiday spirit, they said.

They found the folklore aspect to be particularly interesting, and enjoyed the hands-on aspects.

“It’s worth the trip,” Guy Piatti said.

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