MILWAUKEE — With a good bit of flash and nostalgic dash, the 50th annual Women of St. Sebastian Christmas Tea and Boutique will once again transform St. Sebastian Parish hall into a winter wonderland this Advent.

Terry Miller poses for a photo during the 1977 St. Sebastian Christmas Tea and Boutique, Milwaukee.

Terry Miller poses for a photo during the 1977 St. Sebastian Christmas Tea and Boutique, Milwaukee.

On Dec. 3-4, with crafts, food, bakery items, coffee, gently used household and vintage items, as well as hand-knit hats, mittens, sweaters and afghans, there will be plenty to see.

This year’s theme, “Holly Berry” Boutique, reprises the inaugural theme of 1967 and features a luncheon on Saturday at noon. More than 350 women will sit at elaborately decorated tables, each decorated by a table hostess. A group of parish men, known as the “Hello Dolly Waiters,” will serenade the women with Christmas songs before serving lunch. Their pastor, Fr. Larry Chapman, also serves as one of the waiters.

According to JoAnn Stasiewicz, co-chair of the event with Susan Olson, the men enjoy serving the women’s luncheon, featuring cranberry orange chicken, rice pilaf, vegetables, salad and Raspberry Razzle dessert.

“They have served us since the 1980s and we have all ages who are involved. Some of the men who help are 16, some college students and others are older gentlemen of the parish,” she said. “They wear black pants, white shirt, white aprons and bow ties. They serve us our wine, bring the plating and before they begin serving, we have a program to welcome everyone.”

In conjunction with praying grace before the meal, Ginney and Bob Paula sing, “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place,” written by Lanny Wolfe.[su_pullquote align=”right”]If you go
The Holly Berry Christmas Boutique will be held Dec. 3-4 at St. Sebastian, 5400 W. Washington Blvd., Milwaukee. 
The luncheon is Saturday, Dec. 3 at noon. Cost is $25/$23 for seniors. For ticket 
information, call (414) 232-6769 or 
email The St. Nicholas celebration family breakfast and free boutique bazaar will be held 
Sunday, Dec. 4, 9 a.m. to noon. [/su_pullquote]

“They sing it the first time, and we join in the second time,” said Stasiewicz. “Those are very powerful words.”

The bakery goods and fresh coffee draw women together, almost like a reunion, as some only see each other once a year, during the boutique, which begins at 9 a.m.

“We also have a group of women that meet throughout the year, making beautiful crafts to sell at the Christmas boutique. Our hand-knit items are very popular as well,” said Stasiewicz. “Our highest money-maker last year was our raffle, which brought in around $3,000 in for our event.”

In addition to the monthly Craft Circle Group, a Stitchers group also meets monthly at the parish to crochet or knit prayer shawls and items for the boutique.

“Part of the year they work on the items for the boutique and the other part of the year, they work on our prayer shawls,” said Olson. “These monthly meetings helped to keep the women of the parish connected. Each year we reach out to the new female members of the parish and invite them to participate.”

Preparing for the event takes about five months and includes choosing a theme, planning the environment and decorations, the menu and caterer.

“We also use this time to recruit chairs of the various areas: bakery, raffle, crafts, knits, coffee, personalized ornaments and our ‘New to You’ area,” explained Olson. “In addition to the Saturday boutique and luncheon, we plan the Sunday activities, which include breakfast, a visit from St. Nick, secret Santa workshops and family crafts, along with the boutique items not sold on Saturday.”

This is the second year Olson and Stasiewicz have co-chaired the boutique.

“I remember my mother co-chairing this event in 1976, when I was in high school, and knew that it was my time to step up,” said Olson.

She believes one of the reasons the event has lasted 50 years is due to it being a family affair.

“We have grandmothers, mothers and daughters who make this an annual event. Each generation wants the tradition to continue,” she said, adding, “The timing is right and it gets everyone in the Christmas mood.”

Aleene Yanish, chair of the first boutique, said it was always successful, from the very beginning.

“It was always a first-class operation and it is because a lot of people worked on it and gave their all,” she said. “The women have many good ideas and it has stayed pretty much the same as when it started. They do get a lot of willing workers and the table host still decorates the tables. It is always lovely and the site is lovely, the luncheons are great and the booths are cute.”

Years ago, the parish had an active Christian Women’s Society, but by the 1990s the group fell by the wayside, explained Stasiewicz.

“I think because of the deep-rooted tradition, we have a lot of elderly members who are very traditional and because of their great leadership, the newer members learned from them and now we all love it so much,” she said. “We have a great time at the event, and it is like throwing a party for over 300 girlfriends — a lot of work and a lot of fun.”

Marilyn McGair, publicity chair, agreed, adding most of the women who have attended since the beginning have missed very few of the boutiques.

“These women have treasured the event and their enthusiasm has been instrumental in encouraging others to continue the tradition,” she said.

The boutique usually nets about $10,000, with the proceeds going to the parish’s general fund.

“In addition to building community, the boutique donates a significant amount of revenue to the parish,” said McGair. “We are happy that we can help meet the needs of the parish through our efforts.”