Locals in search of alternative Christmas celebrations swapped pop-laden carols for traditional tunes and hot cocoa for tea during Saturday events at the Midway Museum and Fort Morris State Historic Site.
The historic Midway Museum continued its afternoon tea tradition for the 53rd year and drew between 30 and 50 reservations, according to Executive Director Diane Kroell.
Taylors Creek Elementary teacher Maureen Jenkinson attended for the third time and brought her sister-in-law, Patricia Jenkinson, for her first visit.
“I just love it; it’s now a traditional thing I do,” Maureen Jenkinson said.
“She had told me about it before, and I said, ‘Next time you go, I would like to go,’” Patricia Jenkinson said.
The women reflected on the experience as they sipped chocolate-mint tea and rooibos rising sun and sampled dainties.
“It’s really a nice place to have it; it’s old-fashioned, and the idea definitely intrigued me, because there’s not anything around Hinesville that’s really like this,” Patricia Jenkinson said.
“The food they offer is just wonderful,” Maureen Jenkinson added. “The teas are very tasty and different … it takes away the hustle and bustle.”
The tea also was a family affair for Tabitha Turpin, who brought her five children, mother- and sisters-in law as a holiday surprise while they awaited the homecoming of their father, Army chaplain Capt. Tony Turpin.
Turpin’s mother-in-law, Disa Norman, said she was happy to revisit her old tea-time traditions and share them with her grandchildren.
“This was just a little icing on the cake; this is something I used to do in Nashville, go to tea parties and operas …,” Norman said. “But it’s a blessing — the main blessing is my son coming home.”
While the tea is a long-standing tradition, it had some new additions: Richmond Hill artist Chris Walker recently donated a painting that depicts the Midway Church and the three other churches that branched from it, the Walthourville Presbyterian Church, Dorchester Presbyterian Church and the Flemington Presbyterian Church.
An original hangs in the museum’s music room, but prints are on sale.
The museum also has added optional cemetery tours for an additional $5 per visit, Kroell said. As a result, the cemetery holds the same hours as the museum, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
“Every time you come, you learn something new,” board of directors member Julie Martin said. “You come and sometimes you see things in a different light.”
The bleachers were packed at Fort Morris, where Park manager Arthur Edgar and his wife Debbi have hosted the event since they moved to the site in 1998.
Hinesville couple Theresa and Barry Davis, frequent visitors to the park, came to the Christmas event for the first time.
“I’ve always wanted to come out and see what’s going on, but I’ve never fit my schedule to see it,” Barry Davis said.
“He loves history,” Theresa Davis interjected.
Barry Davis, who is in between rounds of chemotherapy to treat cancer, has committed to being active to ensure he’s enjoying life. Earlier in the day, the couple attended the Christmas Tour of Homes and High Tea benefitting First United Methodist Church. What were they hoping to gain from visiting Fort Morris?
Enjoyment, knowledge and the memories that an open fire provokes, they said.
“Plus, we like the canon firings, too,” Theresa Davis said.
“Oh yeah! You can’t fire a cannon in town,” Barry Davis added eagerly.
“We might be a little bit early, but the spirit is alive and well,” Arthur Edgar said as he welcomed the crowd.
Pastor Jeremy Lormis shared the Christmas story, and Debbi Edgar offered a reflection of the traditions that have contributed to modern celebrations.
In uniform, re-enactor Dave Swinford read a 1678 poem by Henry Vaughan entitled “The True Christmas,” and Cherie Tracy read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Savannah musician Jamie Keena led the crowd in singing Christmas carols, and he offered explanations about how the songs originated. Cannons boomed during and after “Joy to the World.”
Visitors were treated to wassail, a cider-like beverage, and period treats like gingerbread cookies, honey cakes and bourbon balls with fruit and nuts before joining in dancing.