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Alliance looks back to earlier Christmas feasts

Jonesborough serves as the backdrop for many Christmas memories.

from STAFF REPORTS

“We are delighted that you have joined us to share the Christmas season in old Jonesborough. For your enjoyment we have prepared a Christmas feast and tour of some of our lovely historic homes.  May you find this Jonesborough celebration a memorable experience.” 

This greeting appeared for many a year at the top of the Progressive Dinner program.  This December, the Progressive Dinner celebrates its 40th Anniversary by doing what it does best, welcoming guests to Jonesborough for a lovely evening of food, fellowship, and holiday cheer.  The event has become a tradition, not only for the community, but for people throughout the region who look forward to kicking off their Holiday celebrations with the Progressive Dinner. 

Traditions are a part of what makes us who we are.  This year, the Progressive Dinner and the Historic Tour of Homes, two long-standing Jonesborough traditions, are merging to form the Colors of Christmas. 

This new event holds to the traditions of the past and celebrates the preservation of Jonesborough’s historic buildings. Jonesborough’s commitment to preservation is another, long-standing tradition, and that tradition is the very reason the Progressive Dinner and the Historic Tour of Homes began. 

The Progressive Dinner was created by the Jonesborough Civic Trust as their major fundraiser. 

“When it first started, there wasn’t much like this going on,” Sue Henley recalled.  The event was instrumental to funding the preservation efforts of the Civic Trust, and it was unique. Here was an opportunity to see the homes and buildings that benefited from the money.

In addition to being a fundraiser, the Progressive Dinner has always been a “friendraiser” and community builder.  The event requires many volunteers, and there are multiple, moving pieces that have to work just right.  Or, at least they have to have the appearance of working just right to the guests. 

The Progressive Dinner has history of its own, and past Civic Trust member Sue Henley shared some of her favorite Progressive Dinner memories. 

She remembered a year where the main entrée was being prepared at Sister’s Row, and Ignacy Fonberg had the broccoli cooking at the Methodist Church. He knew exactly how many songs he could play on the piano before the broccoli was ready. 

Another year, they were preparing chicken at Tobie Bledsoe’s home, and there was a power outage in the stove. The volunteers divided up the pans of chicken and took them off to different ovens. 

The soup course was at the Broyles’s home (commonly known as the Cunningham house), and Sue called to tell them to stall a bit before bringing the guests up.  When they asked Sue what they were supposed to do, she did have an answer for them. 

“I don’t know, sing Christmas carols.” 

And sing Christmas carols they did. 

A chicken crisis occurred more than once, and one year there was a shortage of fowl in the fridge. The local grocery store and the Parson’s Table restaurant stepped up and came through with the rest on the spur of the moment. 

Of course, the guests never knew any of this was going on.

The Progressive Dinner truly is a “community endeavor,” Sue Henley assured.  When asked what made the event so special – “the people,” she replied without hesitation.  “It’s just always worked out.  It’s a wonderful, happy event.” 

And the happiness is one of the reasons why so many guests have returned year after year. 

“It is a perfect beginning to the Christmas season,” Rebecca and Pat Wolfe shared.  “Touring the old Jonesborough homes that have been decked out for the holidays is a treasured experience.  Then there’s the extraordinary food!  In the twelve or so years that we have enjoyed the dinners, never have we been disappointed with the cuisine, from the opening toast to the dessert.” 

Judge John Kiener has been attending the Progressive Dinner for many years, but one dinner stands out in his mind. 

“Our most memorable Progressive Dinner was in 2009.  I had just asked my wife Belinda to marry me. It was her first ‘public’ display of her engagement ring. Of course, we shared our good news with everyone on the bus. It was Belinda’s first Progressive Dinner in Jonesborough. Charlie Mauk from the Herald & Tribune met our bus at one of the stops and took our photograph. It was published in an edition of the weekly county newspaper. She had a delightful evening and we have been attending the event since we were married on May 1, 2010, in Mountain City.  I believe I have been to every Progressive Dinner sponsored by the Heritage Alliance.  As a past member of the Heritage Alliance Board, all the dinners have been special occasions for me.  I always marvel at how faithful the volunteers have been through the years, taking their time out of a busy holiday schedule to assist in the event.” 

The Progressive Dinner is an evening where old friends become family and new friends are made. 

New friends and family mean expanding traditions, and the Progressive Dinner has also grown and changed over the years.  The Civic Trust is gone, but its legacy lives on in the Heritage Alliance.  Today, proceeds from the dinner benefit the educational programs of the Heritage Alliance, programs like the Oak Hill School Heritage Education Programs, Town Tours, museum activities, and much more.  This year, the tradition of the Progressive Dinner will grow a little more as the Heritage Alliance joins forces with the Town of Jonesborough to present the Colors of Christmas. 

That’s the best part of traditions, they can grow to incorporate more, more historic buildings, more entertainment, while also holding on to what made them special in the first place, the preservation, the fine food, and the fellowship.

Celebrate history, celebrate fine dining, and celebrate friends and family.  Celebrate a one of a kind experience this Holiday season in Jonesborough.  As Sue Henley said, “It’s a wonderful, happy event.” 

For more information about “Colors of Christmas,” call the Heritage Alliance at 753-9580.