The “most wonderful time of the year” gets its formal kickoff when Exchange Place hosts its annual Christmas in the Country celebration on Saturday, December 3, from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm at Kingsport’s tradition-rich Living History Farm, located at 4812 Orebank Road. This is the final public event of the year scheduled at the historic site, which is proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Admission is $5 for adults and free for children under 12.
Fresh greenery and trees and other holiday decorations will, as always, be a major feature of this festival. Mountain City’s Vickie Price will be offering her wreaths and roping, made with a wide variety of freshly-cut greenery, as she has been doing for more than twenty years. Unique folk arts and crafts, created by more than two dozen talented area and regional vendors in our area — such as hand-crafted wood items, handmade baskets, pottery, handmade greeting cards and jewelry — will be on display and for sale. Everyone’s taste buds will be tempted with baked goods, granolas, and a variety of other foods that will be available to eat on site or to take home for gifts or for your own enjoyment. And master clock mechanic Rod Groenewold will be on hand with some of his collection of historic timepieces for sale, along with an antique Seth Thomas clock, which Rod is offering in a silent auction to the highest bidder, with the proceeds benefiting Exchange Place.
Christmas in the Country furthers a mission of Exchange Place by demonstrating a slice of 1850s wintertime farm life in our region, and showing how our ancestors would have set up for the holidays. For the past year, the reconstructed hearth kitchen has been closed as it underwent a major renovation by historic contractor Mike Faust and volunteer Heather Gilreath, who replaced many decimated logs, leveled the building, expanded the porches, and made other improvements. Now, amidst great anticipation, the kitchen will be open again for Christmas in the Country! In the newly restored space, the Eden’s Ridge Hearth Cookery Society will prepare foods that the Gaines and Preston families might have enjoyed during the Christmas season, such as salsify fritters, cinnamon waffles, and ginger cakes. In addition to making these treats, the Junior Apprentices will be demonstrating 19th-century children’s Christmas crafts in the School House, trimming a tabletop tree in the Gathering Room, doing more cooking in the Cook’s Cabin, and festooning the Yule Log. They will also be performing chores like chopping wood and assisting in the blacksmith shop, where the skills that were needed to make hardware and tools for the farm, fix wagon wheels and, of course, shoe the horses, will be demonstrated throughout the day. The Junior Apprentices will also have a craft booth, where they will offer for sale a number of handmade and historically-inspired goods, including tulip poplar bark baskets, hand-forged knives, “Aunt El’s” pincushions, and tin cookie cutters. And around the farmstead, children — or just the young at heart! — will have other opportunities to assist with wintertime activities, such as candle-dipping, decorating the traditional tree for the birds, and visiting with the animals who live at Exchange Place year-round.
The Overmountain Weavers will be on the porch at Roseland, demonstrating weaving and spinning, and sharing their handspun and handwoven items for sale. The Burow Museum will be open with demonstrations of weaving on the restored rocker beater looms, and visitors can try weaving one of Suzanne Burow’s antique draft patterns on a smaller table loom. This will be the last chance for visitors to view the current exhibit of antique drafts and colorful skeins hand-dyed from garden flowers and herbs before the display is taken down for winter safekeeping.
The Museum Store always offers handcrafted items, and this year includes a new book by long-time volunteer Billee Moore, a perfect stocking stuffer. When visiting the store, you will find something extra-special featured on the front porch: the first introduction of a doll that will be unique to Exchange Place and ready for sale in the Spring. Visitors are encouraged to come up with the historic name and offer changes to the design. This is a follow-up to a doll created by several Exchange Place volunteers decades ago; a history of this and other “ol’ timey dolls” will be on display.
A Kissing Ball workshop will take place from 1 to 2 pm. Using boxwood and other natural greenery, participants will make a kissing ball to take home. The $10 fee includes all supplies and instruction, plus admission to the festival. Space is limited, so to register, email [email protected], or call 423-288-6071.
A very important part of this Christmas in the Country will be a remembrance of Dennis Marshall. A Master Gardener, frequent volunteer at Exchange Place and a long-time member of the Southern Appalachian Plant Society (SAPS), Dennis passed away unexpectedly earlier this year. In his memory, we are planning to plant a small grove of American Chestnut Trees and are inviting people to donate to the cause of helping to restore this once-mighty hardwood.
Capping off the day will be the traditional Yule Log Ceremony, which will begin around 4:15 pm. Originated by the Vikings, it served as a way for them to honor their gods and request good luck in the coming year. It spread to harvest festivals in Germany and Scandinavia, then moved to England, and eventually was brought to the New World by the Pilgrims. The Yule Log is a Christmas in the Country tradition at Exchange Place, a symbol of peace and good will for our wonderful community. Since it was often decorated with evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally lit, we encourage everyone to at least bring a twig and to wear fine, colorful headgear to the event. We will be singing several traditional carols, and conclude the day with a cup of hot wassail, which helps us to emphasize the spirit of health and friendship.
Exchange Place is a living history farm whose mission is to preserve and interpret the heritage of mid-nineteenth century farm life in Northeast Tennessee. Exchange Place is a non-profit organization maintained and operated by volunteers and is supported by donations, fundraisers, memberships and grants.