The holidays are a fantastic reason to plan a gathering of friends and family, and luckily there are a tremendous number of books and stories for us to choose from to inspire our holiday scenes and foods!
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Today let's talk about how to plan a charming Holiday Tea Party inspired by an amalgam of literary settings. Did you ever notice that if you set up one traditional Victorian-ish background, you could drop characters into it from every story from A Christmas Carol, to Little Women, to Narnia, to Harry Potter, and they’d look right at home? Rather than limit ourselves to just one story, we’ll pull together our favorite vintage holiday elements to set the stage, then we’ll incorporate nods to an array of different classic books during our activities as the tea party progresses.
Today we’ll cover the three elements of a great event -- immersive decor, themed food & drinks, and literary activities.
HOLIDAY TEATIME DECORATIONS
Holidays bring to mind cozy settings that celebrate hearth and home, so choose a spot for your holiday tea party where you can feel snug, like near a fireplace. This particular tea party theme is both vintage and elegant at the same time, so if you have the choice between your kitchen and your living room, go with the living room. You can choose to seat everyone around one large table, or in a circle of chairs with a coffee table in the middle so everyone can reach the food.
Whichever layout you choose, you’ll want to layer your holiday decorations in a centralized spot. The tea party is much simpler to decorate than most other immersive parties, because your guests will be seated for the entire time. That means you’ll only need to collect a few beautiful items for the center of your space, rather than having to decorate all the walls, doors, floors, etc. Much simpler!
Vintage colors are deep and rich, so choose maroon instead of red, and forest green instead of kelly green. If you have gold or silver accessories, bring them out, and collect some of your favorite ornaments and decorations. Then arrange them at different heights by using cake stands, piles of books, or even upside down bowls. If you feel like your various items don’t seem to mesh together, grab a piece of fabric or even a holiday scarf to wind through them and soften the edges. You can also hint at snow with pretty lace accents.
Remember, you don’t need a specific “centerpiece” -- you can fill a glass bowl with ornaments, or collect pine greenery from outside, or even use non-holiday items that are just sparkly or fancy, like this gold tassel, which is actually a curtain tieback.
For a tea party, you’ll obviously need teacups, and this is a great time to mix and match all of your red and green teacups. If you have a red or green teapot, even better, or you can go with a silver tea service if you’re that lucky. Set out plates, napkins and teaspoons for everyone, and plan your serving dishes ahead of time so you can make sure they all fit on the table you’ve chosen - do a dry run to test that, and if you don’t end up having enough room, set a small table off to the side to function as a sideboard or serving buffet. Then your finishing touch is a traditional christmas cracker, or a tiny present at each place!
HOLIDAY TEATIME FOOD & DRINK
Traditional tea parties generally include three courses - starting with scones, then moving to sandwiches, then finishing with dessert, but don’t feel like those are your only options! You can offer just about anything you like, as long as it’s bite-size and easy to eat with your fingers. And tea doesn’t have to be the only beverage you offer! We’ll get back to that... You can set out all of your courses at the same time, or you can choose to serve each one separately - either way is fine - it just depends on how much space you have and how much getting up and down you want to do during the party.
For our holiday tea party, let’s incorporate some iconic holiday flavors into the traditional courses. For our first course, we’ll serve a cranberry orange spice scone presented to look like a gift, with some beautiful red currant jam and clotted cream on the side. If you’re baking these from scratch you can start with a plain scone recipe or mix and just add chopped cranberries, grated orange peel, and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice. Whether you bake your scones from scratch, or from a nice Stonewall Kitchen mix, or whether you buy them, remember to keep them small, because there’s a lot more food to come!
And along these lines, we’re going to serve a fun sparkling champagne punch with our first course -- the bubbles make it feel festive, and will also prevent those scones from feeling so heavy in your guest’s stomachs. For a lemon drop punch, combine champagne, lemon juice, sugar and a little vodka in a punch bowl and serve into teacups.
Our second course will feature two holiday sandwiches, one savory and one sweet. The savory sandwich includes layers of black forest ham, slices of parmesan cheese and a delicious smear of fig jam. You can build these using tiny pumpernickel slices, or with cheesy bread, or you can even bake them in puff pastry shells. Just remember, choose a dense bread if you’re planning to slice your sandwiches into small triangles - something like a sourdough is just too soft and won’t look nice.
The sweet sandwich is made with two pieces of gingerbread spread with cream cheese and lemon curd. Yum! Again, you can make the gingerbread or buy it at the store -- no one will mind because either way it will be delicious. Did you know that during the Victorian era, tea sandwiches were traditionally cut into small rectangular shapes, not the triangles we expect today?
Now to accompany our sandwich course we’re going to set out these adorable tiny glasses of eggnog! Thread a few cranberries on a toothpick for color - isn’t that so cute? Everyone will also have a teacup still at their place, so plan to have your hot water ready to pour some traditional tea in case your guests don’t care for eggnog, or just want something warm to drink with their sandwiches. Think through ahead of time how you’re going to boil your water, and how you’re going to keep it hot during the party. Are you using a thermal carafe, or a teapot with a tea cozy on it? Will you have teapots full of tea steeping, or will you let everyone choose a holiday flavored teabag from a pretty basket? Make those decisions ahead of time so you don’t find yourself running to the kitchen during the party, panicking because the water is cold.
Our third course is the fun one - our dessert course. For our holiday tea party we’re going to serve tiny traditional mince pies and these beautiful cakes known as petit fours. I’m lucky that my favorite mince pies are made by the Scottish company Walker’s and I can get these at my local grocery store. You may also be able to find petit fours at your local grocery or bakery, or I will often order mine online. These came from Harry & David.
We’ll definitely need a nice hot tea to complement our dessert course, with a little citrus in it to offset the heavy food. You can set an orange slice in the bottom of each teacup, then pour some nice chai spiced tea over the top, or look what I found this year. These are doilies made of sugar that you set right on top of your tea. They melt right in, and you can drink them! How clever is that?
Tea parties generally take place in the midafternoon, but this holiday tea party includes a substantial amount of food, so you can actually host it at lunchtime or even dinnertime. Take your time bringing out the courses, so no one feels overstuffed, and keep the tea refills coming after the dessert course, so everyone can enjoy the atmosphere while they digest.
HOLIDAY TEATIME ACTIVITIES
The element that elevates an event from a normal party to an immersive experience is the activities that you plan to complement the food and conversation.
Since we happen to love immersive LITERARY events, our holiday tea party will feature a holiday-themed literary trivia challenge! This is an elegant event, so the activities will be low-key and won’t require any jumping around or embarrassing games.
Just collect quotes about the holidays from classic literature, print them up, fold them and stick them in a little bowl, and let each guest pull one and try to guess which book it came from. There are great passages about the holidays in Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Harry Potter, Little Women, and even When the Grinch Stole Christmas! A little internet search will come in handy here :)
You can round out your holiday tea party with a gift exchange if you like, and your memorable afternoon will be complete! To emphasize the literary angle, you can even send your guests home with a book or a pretty holiday bookmark as a favor.
And now you have everything you need to host a charming, literary-inspired, holiday tea party. Let me know in the comments how your party went, or if you’re here because you’re just planning ahead for a party, let me know what elements you are excited to incorporate into your party!
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