Tea with Santa 

Eight Kids a-Sipping

First the bad news: Tea with Santa at the Jefferson Hotel is sold out and has been since the day they started taking reservations (Oct. 1). Now the good news: There's always next year. This is one of those traditions that, unless you've been introduced to it by invitation from a friend or relation, you could easily go through life knowing nothing about. The Jefferson does not promote it because there's no need. And it is truly a wonderful thing.

On two Saturday afternoons in December, the rotunda of the magnificent Jefferson is turned over to round tables of eight grown-ups and children dressed in holiday finery. The hotel's signature towering Christmas tree glitters right in the middle of the space, and there is a palpable sense of pure excitement and festivity in the air. Hotel waitresses wind around the crowded floor pouring Richmond-blend tea and hot chocolate and serving tasty sandwiches, chocolate-dipped strawberries and yummy cookies. At the appointed moment, Santa and Mrs. Claus descend the grand staircase amid much fanfare, then begin making rounds among the tables, listening intently to requests and advising good behavior.

Once the Couple in Red has checked in personally with each table, Santa takes a seat and begins entertaining individual children upon his knee. By this time, plates of sandwiches and cookies and pitchers of hot chocolate have been consumed, and children are beginning to run up and down the steps, around the balcony and generally wreaking havoc. Grown-ups are full of tea and chatting about the hectic days to come. This is as close as anything comes to a lazy, happy ride on the Polar Express to the fringes of the North Pole and

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