A holiday tradition … Festive Green Tea returns to McDowell House

Published 7:00 am Sunday, November 27, 2016


Contributing writer

Photos by Andrea Perkins

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For more years than most people in Danville can remember, the first Sunday in December has meant the start of the Christmas season with a holiday tea at the McDowell House museum, across the street from Constitution Square in downtown Danville. This long standing tradition continues when the Garden Club of Danville holds its annual Holiday Open House and Green Tea 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4,  at the historic house. There is no charge but donations will be accepted for the Salvation Army and Family Services Association of Boyle County.

Green Tea- 2015- fruit

Over 50 years ago, the Garden Club of Danville began decorating the McDowell House for the holidays and serving a tea to raise money for charity. Those long ago members chose the name Green Tea not for the greenery used to decorate the house, but for the color of dollar bills collected for local charities. Origins of the first tea are lost to history but it was already an annual event in 1970, when a picture of the tea appeared in The Advocate-Messenger.

Club member and McDowell House docent Madrene Houey retired last year after being in charge of 22 Green Teas. Her successor, Judy Sweeney, has been busy assigning members to bake cookies, make tea sandwiches, and pick a spot in the house to decorate. Traditionally, past-presidents of the club pour the “tea,” which is actually hot spiced cider. Judy and club member Kay Arnold will be busy in the kitchen the day of the tour, arranging platters of goodies and mixing up the cider.

Green Tea- 2015- doctor bag

Members also make live evergreen wreaths to hang in the front windows of the house. Individual gardeners decorate each room with natural greenery, flowers, fruit and dried materials. No modern, artificial materials are allowed. This is Christmas as it used to be, before commercialism made the holidays so busy, glitzy and expensive. They will bring materials from home on Friday and Saturday and spend a busy day making the house look like Christmas in the days when Dr. Ephraim McDowell’s family lived there.

The Green Tea features a full afternoon tea in a formal setting, with linens, china, silver and candles, just as the McDowell family might have enjoyed in the early 1800s. The dining room table will be spread with homemade cookies, cakes, candies and other holiday treats. Carol Seidel will once again bring her famous bourbon balls. Hot spiced tea is served to visitors who are touring the house, with music provided by the Danville Dulcimers. Guests have been known to sing along with the dulcimers when Christmas carols are played.

Green Tea- 2015- Ginger Bread Man

This year award winning floral arranger Sarah Wiltsee, a past president of the club, is planning something special for the dining table centerpiece. She is making a wreath of fresh greenery and berries which will be elevated on a pedestal with a candle inside a glass globe in the center. That way, she says, more plates of food can be spread on the table. No one will go away hungry.

The decorations will remain throughout December. McDowell House is open 10 a.m. to noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, and 2-4 p.m. on Sunday. 

Susan Jonas is publicity chairwoman for the Garden Club of Danville. 

Green Tea 2014 057


The Garden Club of Danville’s Green Tea and Holiday Open House will be 2-4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4 at the McDowell House Museum, 125 S. Second St. in Danville. The event is free, but donations will be accepted for the Salvation Army and Family Services Association of Boyle County.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.

Family Services Association of Boyle County

Family Services Association of Boyle County provides short-term financial assistance to those experiencing a temporary financial emergency. It also assist clients in identifying other programs and services that can contribute to their financial stability on a long-term basis.