Historic Exchange Place prepares for annual Christmas kickoff

Published 11:49 am Tuesday, December 3, 2019

KINGSPORT — The “most wonderful time of the year” gets its formal kickoff when Exchange Place hosts its annual Christmas in the Country celebration on Saturday, Dec. 7, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., 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 — proudly listed on the National Register of Historic Places — and admission is free for everyone.

Christmas in the Country features more than two dozen area and regional vendors offering their fresh greenery and trees, handcrafted wreaths and roping, and other holiday decorations. Unique folk arts and crafts will be found on both sides of Orebank Road, including hand-crafted wood items, unique lamps and clocks, pottery, handmade greeting cards, kitchen and garden art, cat and dog treats, and jewelry. Your taste buds will be tempted with baked goods, small batch roasted coffee beans, hot sauces, jams and jellies, plus kettle corn and perhaps even Brunswick stew. You will also be able to pamper yourself with a variety of herbal products, soaps and natural lotions. More than two dozen area and regional vendors will have their wares on display and for sale on both sides of the historic Gaines-Preston farm.

Most especially, Christmas in the Country furthers the mission of Exchange Place by depicting wintertime farm life in the mid-nineteenth century, and demonstrating how our Northeast Tennessee ancestors would have celebrated the holidays in the antebellum period. In the log kitchen, the Eden’s Ridge Hearth Cookery Society will be preparing dishes that the Gaines and Preston families might have enjoyed during the holidays, like roast pork, salsify fritters, and cinnamon waffles. In the newly restored outdoor bake oven, they will be baking ginger cakes (cookies), using a Gaines family recipe and replicas of Preston family tin cookie cutters.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Meanwhile, Exchange Place’s Junior Apprentices will be busy in the Preston House Gathering Room, making the home festive for the holidays. (They will also be selling handmade crafts to help support their program, which teaches middle school and high school aged youngsters about antebellum life and historic preservation.) Over in the blacksmith shop, 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. For children — or just the young at heart! — there will be “chores” to do, such as candle-dipping, decorating the traditional tree for the birds, and creating an old-timey toy.

Capping off the day will be the traditional Yule Log Ceremony, which will expect to begin around 4:15 p.m. It was originated by the Vikings, who used it to honor their gods and request good luck for the coming year. Later it was incorporated into the harvest festivals of Germany and Scandinavia, then moved to England when the Normans conquered the British Isles, and eventually was brought to the New World by the Pilgrims. While the Preston family may not have burned a Yule Log, we have made it a part of our Christmas in the Country as a symbol of peace and good will for our wonderful community.

The Yule Log was often decorated with evergreens, and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider, before it was finally lit, and after it died down (anywhere from 12 hours to 12 days), its ashes were scattered over the fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. In this spirit, we encourage everyone present to bring their own sprig to cast onto the fire, and to also wear fine, colorful headgear to the event.

We conclude the day with the singing of carols and, of course, a cup of hot wassail!  Derived from the Anglo-Saxon “waes hael,” which meant “Be in Health” or “Here’s to You,” wassail helps us to emphasize the spirit of health and friendship.

For more information, you may call Exchange Place at 423-288-6071, or write to email@exchangeplace.info.

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.