It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas! It is a truth universally acknowledged that a person in possession of a good read must be in want of a hot cuppa tea. Reach over to the wall and pull the needle pointed bell pull and have your scullery servant put the kettle on for a pot of tea. Now, start singing, “I’m dreaming of a white-less Christmas! Just like the ones I used to know,” in Old Charleston. Just think, no snow to shovel, no salt to smear your windshield, no bones to break slipping on the ice! I know you may really miss all that, but you will adjust in no time. “Oh, the weather up North is frightful, but down South it’s so delightful. And since you are invited on my tour to go, leave the snow, leave the snow, leave the snow!”
Come here and set your feet to a saner tempo. You will think you are in a Dickensian London. The warm days are producing a gentle fog at night over the water and at the morning’s light. Many houses have the soft glow of gas lights on either side of the front door donned with a fresh wreath. With the indigenous materials in abundance to work with of magnolia leaves, popcorn berry trees, and shaggy cedar, there is an Old World look about us that makes even those from off feel they have arrived home. We keep all the other places from seeming natural. Christmas is when we are looking most authentically ourselves, dressed up for the Holidays, like my husband tall and handsome in black tie, his tails flying as he dances to Beach Music, our South Carolina State Dance. You should have seen him at our daughter’s debut dancing with the tall and beautiful Miss Elizabeth Scarborough, a Taylor Swift impersonator on stage last summer in Myrtle Beach and Charleston debutante this season. HOT!
My beloved went out this afternoon on what we call “de bo-at’ –Gullah for our family boat, and zipped over to Morris Island with “the boys” to play Bocci on the beach today. How was your first Wednesday in Advent? While he and his constant companion, Chesterfield, our English Springer Spaniel, were gone experiencing a slice of Lowcountry heaven, our college graduate first born daughter, Olivia, and I put up live green cedar garlands and red bows on our second floor porch railing overlooking the Ashley River. It is great to have her home for the holidays. With days of sun and laughter like today, the green garlands may have golden highlights before Christmas is over! Turkey Gumbo was delicious tonight, my reward after emptying the spice cupboard, cleaning, consolidating, and reorganizing it while Hubbie was out.. Whew! I love that organized feel and easy turn of the rotating spices. I cleared out about a dozen salt and pepper disposable canisters meant for the boat making my husband laugh with hilarity and incredulity when he saw them in his cubbie.
Christmas Cake preparation was the real achievement tonight after plowing through my mother’s and my hand written, hand cut and pasted recipe book that will not close. Picture a wide V. Brandy is poured over the glass bowl of currants and sultanas with care, in hopes that your family soon will be here. There will be English steamed Christmas pudding in vintage molds, mince meat tarts, and baked ham with muscadine and peach chutney. It’s the Hap-Happiest Time of the Year! Come let us spread some cheer to you and yours. My brother and I both will be making and baking my dear English mother’s Christmas recipes, comparing notes, keeping our English- Charleston family traditions alive into this next generation, as she has past them down to us.
My tours are week days from 9 to 1:30, starting with a full Southern breakfast and the fattest Christmas tree overlooking the Charleston Harbor. This house on High Battery is dressed to the nines for Christmas. We also go into the house of the doctor who delivered me. (Thank you, Dr. Wilson! Thank you, Mumse!) His ceiling is probably the most elaborate with more layers in the plaster and woodwork than any house in Charleston. I love the acorn, and egg and dart motif. It was built in 1856 by a signer of the Ordinance of Secession. Christmas 1860 is the focus of our history on my Christmas in Charleston Tea Party Private Tour. Camellias are our winter flower in bloom in our gardens. I will take you into one that won a national garden award, in which I am the only guide allowed in by the owners, who are hard working,generous friends of mine.
The greening of St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, known in the 18th century as the most elegant church in the English colonies, will be this Friday, as will the Garden Club of Charleston’s decorating of the Joseph Manigault House.
Call me to reserve a spot on my private tour as I take small groups. The tour ends with an invitation to a High Christmas Tea at my home on Tradd Street. I hope to see you soon. 843-577-5896 Laura Wichmann Hipp
Post Script I went to the Garden Club Tea at the Joseph Manigault House yesterday. You must see it dressed up for Christmas as it would have looked in the time of the Manigaults, the early 1800’s. It is on the corner of John and Meeting Streets across from the Charleston Museum. It is open for tours daily. Out of the corner of my eye, I detected clutter on the stairs to the third floor. Just as my children would leave toys where they last were playing, so too there are 18th and 19th centuries toys as if where the Manigault children last left them before being called down to dinner.This Christmas Tea for Garden Club members yesterday is the only time this museum house is used for entertaining as it was designed to be with homemade tea fare and coffee punch. Garden Club members keep up the garden all year. I went with my fellow member, June McKnight, who was responsible for the pomanders hanging in the windows in an upstairs room. She is coming over to make some more with me for my windows, too! Everyone was congratulating June on acing the City of Charleston Guide exam. She made a 98! The last time it was offered, sisters Therese and Mary Helen were two of four to pass out of 40! It is an oral and written exam. June has been interning with me and will be helping me with tours. Like my precious, late mother, who did the tours with me for 25 years, June is a pretty,petite, elegant, and very well read lady. She is reading everything she can get her hands on to do with Historic Charleston, all the classics. I am encouraging her to have some available for you to purchase from her since she as well as I highly recommend them and quote from them on our tour.