Nutcracker Tea offers magical start to holiday season

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What goes better with Tchaikovsky than tea, especially during the holiday season?

The 13th annual Nutcracker Tea presented by Christ Episcopal Church Dance Ministry last Sunday, Dec. 3 at the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club gave children of all ages the chance to dress up, drink tea and get a sneak preview of Christmastime’s most famous ballet.

The Nutcracker Tea was created and produced by Claire Duffy, whose mother, Felicia Rhoden, is the director of Christ Episcopal Church Dance Ministry, and her dancers will perform “The Nutcracker” Saturday, Dec. 9, at 6 p.m. at the Lazzara Theater on The University of North Florida campus. The production is in its 22nd year.

The performers at the tea and in “The Nutcracker” are all students of Rhoden, better known as Miss Felicia, some of whom have been with her throughout their childhoods. Rhoden said her daughter approached her with the concept for the tea more than 13 years ago, with the thought of a holiday event where little girls could get dressed up and enter a magical world.

“Claire has made it look like Disney,” Rhoden said.

Rhoden, a Ponte Vedra resident, said she can’t believe how the event has blossomed over the years.

“It’s grown from a tiny project of about 20 to what it is now,” she said, noting that around 200-plus people attended Sunday’s sold-out event. “I think this area really needed something like this.”

The preview event also presented an opportunity to shine the light on special guests and help local charities, including Dreams Come True and Community PedsCare. This year’s guests of honor were 8-year-old Cassidy Chergi and 10-year-old Lunish Vurnet, who got into the spirit of the occasion donning dazzling sequined dresses.

Andrea Siracusa, director of community relations for Dreams Come True, said events like the Nutcracker Tea are very important to the nonprofit, because 100 percent of its funds goes to making children’s dreams a reality. And the organization, which is focused solely on Southeast Georgia and Northeast Florida, receives no federal funding, she said.

“It allows us to bring them active joy,” Siracusa said of the opportunity to attend events like the Nutcracker Tea. “It’s just as important as raising money.”

Attendees at the event also got several glimpses of what will be on display Saturday night, including performances by the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the show’s young heroine Clara, played by 13-year-old Ellie McCary.

For tickets to Christ Episcopal Church’s “The Nutcracker” or more information about the performance, go to missfeliciasdance.com or call (904) 923-0604.

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