A Victorian Tea Party

Source: hercanberra.com

Isn’t it lovely to receive an invitation to high tea? Well, I was invited to a tea party on Victoria Day, May 2018. It happened to be on the royal wedding weekend. So, visions of guests wearing expensive outfits, rolling up in Rolls Royce cars flashed before my eyes. However, this tea party was unique and beyond compare.

The invitation to tea came with a request to provide sing-along music for the guests. These dear people were escorted by *PSWs, volunteers, and recreational staff members into the dining hall.

What surprised me was the atmosphere in the Long Term Care Centre. Tablecloths covered the tables that were adorned with bone china cups and saucers. Pretty colored serviettes and plates laden with goodies sat on each table. We even ate cucumber sandwiches, cookies, and the very Canadian Timbits!

Tiered cake stands bearing scones, jam, and clotted cream were missing! However, the joy in the room was real. The residents sang, or swayed to the music. Competing with the sounds of a dishwasher in the vicinity lent a different rhythm to the moment. As the guests got excited, they tried to dance with their walkers, or shake in their wheelchairs.

While we sang that age old song, “When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you…” their faces lit up in smiles. These guests wore comfortable clothing. There were no fancy fascinators perched on well styled hair to fit the occasion.

I was in good company, surrounded not by a Queen, Princes, Dukes and Duchesses, but by residents who were former policemen, nurses…..and yes, even a Member of Parliament!

Looking around the room watching people sipping tea brought me back to growing up in India. I recall running home from school for “tea time.” It was not the tea that I was interested in, but the tasty treats that were served with it. There was always an assortment of biscuits (cookies), and savoury snacks to tide us over till supper.

My grandmother was particular about etiquette, so we had to hold our china properly, or else a frown would be sent in our direction. The pinkie had to be held appropriately, because it was important when drinking tea out of a china cup.

Popular belief is that “afternoon tea” first began in the mid 19th century. Anna Maria Stanhope known as the seventh Duchess of Bedford (Queen Victoria’s lady-in-waiting)introduced this in 1840.

The Duchess supposedly got hungry around four o’ clock in the afternoon. Since dinner was not till 8 pm, tea, sandwiches and cakes would be served to her. This became a habit. Soon friends joined her, and it gradually became a social event.

Afternoon tea was between 4 and 5 pm. Women wore long gowns, gloves and hats. Tea from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka now) was served from silver tea pots. It was important to use bone china cups to drink this special tea. Today, we drop a tea bag into a mug and say we’re having tea. What a far cry from the days of long ago!

As I mused about tea time, my mind went down the rabbit hole to the Mad Hatters afternoon tea in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.” That is a delightful story, but did you know that some folk actually host Mad Hatter tea parties?

From interesting invitations to decorations, food, drink, and games, these parties are entertaining, especially if you wear a costume for the occasion. If you are planning a MH tea party, there are plenty of suggestions and ideas down to fun music to tickle your guests! But if you want to experience it in style, do visit the Courtyard Garden in Sanderson, London, England, and indulge your fantasy.

Fortunately, Toronto still offers “high tea” to those like yours truly, who enjoys the elegance of an almost forgotten way of life. Visiting the Fairmont, Royal York, the Old Mill Inn, or King Edward hotel allows one that privilege. However, being served tea in the middle of the afternoon comes at a price. Be ready to drop approximately $50/ per person for that perfect time.

Some traditions continue in families, and I have to admit that this one does in ours. When our young grandchildren visit, lunch is hardly over when I am asked the question, “Grandma, is it tea time?” Then the little ones run to the pantry to choose the snacks that they want to eat.

I have to agree with Henry James who said, “There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”


*PSW – personal support worker

Viola Athaide is a student in the Windows of Theology program at Regis College, Toronto. She currently teaches Scripture at her local parish church.

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