Holiday Tea Traditions

Tea has had a role in holiday traditions across the United States and Europe for centuries.

English and American Tea Traditions

Two centuries ago Christmas Eve halls set for 4,000 were the model of temperance for raucous England.

Christmas tea and gingerbread cookies (Getty Images/margouillatphotos)

Drinking wine and ale to excess was a widespread tradition that teetotalers countered with extravagant Christmas Eve tea parties offering snacks and festive blends. Spiced tea was a blend popular in Europe that originated as wassail, a German ale with mulling spices. In the 1830s the practice of singing carols and sharing wassail became popular in Victorian England with black tea as the base flavored with ginger, cinnamon and orange peel. Tables held nutmeg and sugar cookies and nougat, a candy made with honey, roasted nuts and egg whites.

Tea parties funded by a combination of philanthropic contributions and low-priced tickets turned a profit and financed temperance projects well into the 20th Century, according to the article Tea Party published in Livesey’s Moral Reformer (1831-1883).

“In Liverpool 2,500 of the town’s “wealth, beauty and intelligence” listened to “an Englishman, a Welshman, and a Scotchman” and 500 immediately signed the pledge of total abstinence in one meeting in 1836,” according to the Reformer.

Americans took note and celebrated Christmas with similar gatherings.

“Members of the movement in both the U.S. and the U.K. wouldhold massive tea parties, often on Christmas Eve, in halls festooned with pinetree boughs and fruit. As many as 4,000 working and middle-class attendeeswould drink tea at long tables, while listening to a sermon or the testimony ofreformed alcoholics preaching the virtues of an alcohol-free life,” wroteWhitney Blair Wyckoff for NPR’s “The Salt.”

She quoted Erika Rappaport, a professor of English history at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “Christmas was one of the few times during the year that working-class men had off, and many would use it to blow their wages drinking and gambling at the pub, she said. It was not uncommon to see women storming into bars with frying pans raised to drag home their inebriated husbands—and what was left of their paychecks.”

Rappaport, who has written about temperance tea parties, said they setthe stage for afternoon tea.

Russian and Eastern European Tea Traditions

The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas in earlyJanuary, with a traditional feast on the night of the 6th. Kissel isfor toasting and hot tea from the samovar keeps everyone warm. Black tea fromChina was preferred among the upper class which first began drinking tea in1638. Ordinary Russians steeped a range of fruits and herbs from Siberiaincluding hopcones, chamomile, bearberry (a wild cranberry), and comfrey, apopular medicinal.

The Republic of Tea describes a beloved holiday tradition forJewish families in Eastern Europe.

(Photo/Adobe Stock)

“The ceremony involvessoaking a sugar cube in brandy, placing it in a teaspoon, and lighting it onfire. Then, everyone sings a holiday song while the brandy-soaked sugar cubeburns. As soon as the singing ends, everyone drops their flaming sugar cubeinto a glass of tea and drinks it, according to the News & Notes tea blog.

“This Hanukkah ritual ismostly performed in Russia and other Eastern European countries, although itcan be celebrated by anyone who wants to embrace the spirit and history of theJewish “Festival of Lights” this holiday season,” wrote News & Notes.

Christmas Markets and Tea

Traditional christmas market in the historic center of Frankfurt, Germany (Getty Images/sborisov)

Christmas markets, known asmarchésde Noël are a destination forthousands of French shoppers before the holidays. The market at Strasbourg,known as the Christkindelsmarik dates back to 1570. In the Middle AgesAlsatians played ‘Games of Paradise’ – performances that depicted the historyof creation that featured a fir tree covered in apples and biscuits. A tree wasplaced before every church. In time glass blowers produced decorative versionsof the apples and smaller trees became popular in homes.

Esprit de Noel (Photo credit:

As Paris freezes the scentof Esprit De Noël from Mariage Freres rises from city’s teaparlors and tea parties. First introduced 30 years ago, it is a popular blacktea with mandarin orange, cinnamon, almond and Bourbon vanilla.

The night before Christmasis the festive meal leRéveillon,taken from the verb reveiller which means to wake up. A Yule log decorates atable of foie gras, oysters, snails with turkey or goose stuffed withchestnuts. In France teetotalers are few. Everyone drinks wine with their meal,tea follows.

Source: Republicof Tea, NPR, MariageFreres, The MoralReformer