“Tea party, tea party!”
A little girl in a gold and white dress ran toward the double wooden doors, excited for the fourth annual Teddy Bear Tea. Her mom walked briskly beside her to keep up, amused at her pint-sized daughter’s gusto.
The Billy Graham Library hosted the event Saturday at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. Nearly 200 children 5 and up wore their finest clothes to dine on miniature ham biscuits, Christmas cookies with sprinkles and tiny cupcakes.
Because Billy Graham was raised on a dairy farm, each child received a plush cow with a bright red ribbon tied around its neck. Some of the kids named the new stuffed animal “Bessie” – the same name given to the animatronic cow at the entrance to the Library.
Charis Duncan and her daughter, Emma, drove six hours from Virginia to take part in the tea. The pair participated the past two years and didn’t want to miss year three.
“She’s just so enthusiastic,” Charis said. “They make Christmas so much fun. … They really focus on the kids.”
Emma, 7, is hearing impaired but didn’t miss a beat. Decked out in a plaid dress, black boots and red-framed glasses, she reminisced about past years.
“It’s a lot of fun. We had hot chocolate and stuff,” she said, barely able to stand still.
Before the event began, Kathy Linker stood in the lobby with her daughter, 6-year-old Abby. Several Christmas trees decorated the entrance, and the smell of pine wafted in the air. Abby doesn’t usually wear dresses on Saturday, but this was a special occasion. The tea is a prime time for her to dress up and “practice her manners,” Kathy said.
Some kids posed for pictures by the lobby fireplace. Once inside, parents swarmed around the tables to snap more photos. They later gathered in the back of the room for their own refreshments as the kids settled in for entertainment.
The bubbly “TBA Girls,” 16-year-old triplets Tiffany, Brianna and Amanda, wore matching white scarves as they sang Christmas carols onstage.
“They look so cute in their dresses,” Brianna said. “It’s great to see the joy on their faces.”
Some of the girls wore large bows in their hair. One 7-year-old, Faith, held her tiny mug of hot chocolate with her pinky in the air.
“I’ve been practicing,” she announced.
Several boys also attended the event, donning argyle vests and slacks. Four-year-old Dylan showed off his plastic placemat, covered in stickers to create his own take-home nativity scene.
“It’s a time for them to have fun, but it’s also a time for them to be reminded of the real reason that we celebrate Christmas,” Diane Wise, Library promotions manager, said.
Leslie Volker and her two daughters, Emily and Avery, joined Nicole Tallent for a skit about Christ’s birth. Kaila Gottschling fixed their makeup to make “The Barnyard Players” look like a cow, a sheep, a cat and a grandmother.
Many visitors heard about the tea through friends. Annjanette Taylor brought her daughter after her daughter’s friend raved about last year’s event.
“Her friend had so many good things to say about it,” she said. And her own verdict? “I think it’s really sweet.”
Siblings Derrick, Destiny and D’Erica – 6, 9 and 11 – also got their first taste of the tea. Destiny couldn’t wait until the surprise announcement at the end: each child got a pass for a carriage ride at Christmas at the Library, a month-long event.
For many participants, it was their first visit to the Billy Graham campus. For others, it’s becoming tradition. John Brandenburg’s 5-year-old daughter was “ecstatic” about the tea, and the family plans to come back next year.
Christmas at the Library runs through Dec. 23 from 5-10 p.m. The Library is closed on Sundays. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Billy Graham Library website.