Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Before entering the doors of Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center last Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, visitors could smell fragrant Fraser fir and Northern balsam wafting up the sidewalk. Once inside, the smells and sounds and sights of Christmas enlivened senses.
Last year was the first attempt at the Balsam Bee. Its popularity prompted organizer Claire Suminski to offer it two days this year instead of one. On Dec. 3 and 5, the Balsam Bee took place in the auditorium of Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center.
For months, the Suminski family and other volunteers have been grinding up tree trimmings so that the needles could be sifted and stuffed into pillows for sale at the Balsam Bee. Also available for sale were greenery swags with volunteer-made bows, as well as pottery, jewelry, and more. All proceeds support Cowee School Arts and Heritage Center.
Local students, many of whom are New Century Scholars, offered their time, as did Cowee Quilters and seamstresses with the Smoky Mountain Quilters Guild, along with a host of other volunteers made Balsam Bee possible, pointed out Suminski. Music was provided by musicians with the Nikwasi Dulcimer Players.
“This annual event is all about strengthening community,” she said. “It gives some people a chance to sell their crafts, but it’s much more about enjoying time together, sharing the love of God and the reason for this season, and working together.”
Last year and this year, soups, cookies and more were offered. However, Suminski said an add-on for this year’s Balsam Bee was the Fraser Fir Café, hosted at the on-site facility managed by Jim Kinard, kitchen manager. Tuesday, Dec. 3 included a chili dinner, while Thurs. Dec. 5, offered a lowcountry shrimp boil and fixings.
“It was really nice,” said Suminski. “It was set up like a café with a nice ambiance and waiters and waitresses. Plus, we served non-alcoholic Devil’s Foot ginger brew, made in Asheville. We wanted families and friends to be able to come to the Balsam Bee, have dinner, and make an evening out of it.”
She encouraged area residents and visitors to check the Cowee School events calendar next holiday season to learn the dates of the 2020 third annual Balsam Bee.