It’s official! There’s a chill in the air, and while many people are planting mums and carving pumpkins, the savvy entertainers are already planning their Christmas festivities. For those looking to charm their guests, a Victorian tea may be just the thing. These classical events are refined, and yet fun.
The first thing to decide when planning a Christmas tea is where to have it. You’d be surprised at the transformation your dining room can make with the right touches, but there are other locations that might be a bit easier, like a tearoom or a bistro. Find out what’s offered in your local area – you might give up a bit of control for less work setting the scene.
If you decide to transform your home, remember the key words for tea: make it elegant! Lace tablecloths, teacups and saucers, miniature creamers and cloth napkins will make a fine table. Don’t forget the holiday spirit as you set the table – find tea sets with sprigs of holly, silver or gold edging or bells. What will set this event apart is the Victorian part though, so don’t forget the distinguishing aesthetic: ornate. Anything decorated with seed pearls, cameos or grosgrain ribbon in dark colors will work.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves – to have an event, you must have guests. So, it’s time to decide whether this is a women-only event. If so, proceed with all the frills. If not, add some masculine touches by providing tobacco (even if it’s just for show) and some lively music. Violin and piano instrumentals would fit the bill.
In keeping with the Victorian’s deep respect for tradition, a selection of classical music from 1900 would be appropriate, but feel free to mix in some carols to sing along to after the meal if complete. Just make sure that any selections lean towards a hymn style, rather than a boisterous rendition of Jingle Bells. That’s not to say that the Victorians didn’t celebrate with mirth – they did, but in a way that was true to the traditions of England.
On to one of the crucial elements: What will you serve? Make careful decisions here because it’s more important to have a few elegant selections done tastefully than a smorgasbord. Mince pies, delicate tarts or frosted mini-cakes fit with the theme of delicate cuisine. Basically, the smaller the better, and feel free to shrink Christmas classics like fruitcakes, sugar cookies or truffles.
As for tea, you can select a basic black loose tea with a tea strainer in the pot, or you can jazz it up for the holiday and select a cranberry or mint flavored tea. Whichever you choose, the best touches will be with your accessories: silver sugar tongs, tiny salt and pepper shakers and edible sugared violets. There’s probably no need for centerpieces because the tea set will be the focal point, select a set with matching tea cups or a mix of different patterns in a similar style. Add sugar cubes, porcelain creamers and linen napkins. As far as cutlery, select the smallest pieces: dessert forks, butter knives and of course, tea spoons. While you still have room on the table, make sure you fit in some classic Victorian elements: wrought silver place card holders, and sachets of favors for your guests.
For entertainment and education, you may want to refresh your guests on Victorian etiquette. The spout of the teapot should face the hostess or pourer. It’s proper to just lift the teacup and not the saucer when seated at the table. Finger foods mean that guests will need water bowls to cleanse the fingers – garnish them with a sprig of wintergreen or holly and remind guests how to use them. If perchance anyone wears gloves, ask them to remove them for the serving of the meal. Set the tone by enjoying your tea without clinking your spoon against the sides of the cup or the saucer as you set it down.
The duration of the event should be around two hours, with a leisurely start and lingering conversations while seated. You may wish to say a few words at the beginning, in the spirit of the holiday. Ask your guests to be seated as the tea and food are served and ensure that everyone takes their time to enjoy themselves – it’s the spirit of elegance, as well as a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the holidays.
Above all, be gracious and embodied the spirit of Christmas!
Credits: Christmas Tea at Flynn Victorian Tea Room, Des Moine, IA, To book your reservations, go to