Here is the post I did when I guest-blogged over at Advent for Evangelicals last year. Although Lindsey has chosen not to update the blog for 2007, you can still have lots of fun browsing the archives from last year.
Christmas is such a delightful time of year to welcome others into our homes. Why not invite a friend, or group of friends over for tea? Even if you've never hosted a tea, it's quite easy to do. Even if you don't like to drink tea, hosting a tea party can be a wonderful and relaxing time.
I often choose to add other drinks myself to my tea times. Hot spiced cider, hot chocolate, and coffee are fine additions on a cold day. Likewise, if you're in an area that's warm at Christmas feel free to serve punch, lemonade, or even iced tea. Besides, this time of year there are many delightful Christmas teas available. Whether you choose a regular tea, a flavored Christmas tea, or if you prefer an herbal brew, there is a flavor for everyone.
Depending on how many people you are inviting will probably determine how you serve the tea. When I am serving tea for a large group, I usually fill an electric percolator/urn with water that will stay hot as long as it's needed. I set teapots by the urn and a selection of teas, both loose leaf and bags in a pretty basket nearby. I encourage guests to brew their own pot of tea in whatever flavor they choose.
If I am just having tea with a friend, I will simply use my kettle on the stove and brew a pot myself of whatever flavor she chooses. I keep sugar cubes on hand, but they are not required. Lemon slices are nice if you have them. It's a nice touch to fill a creamer with milk for the tea. (Real cream is too strong for tea. Also, do not add both milk and lemon to a cup of tea as the milk will curdle.)
What shall you serve at a tea? Anything you like! Tea time foods are best when presented in beautiful bite-sized treats with lots of fresh flavors. My tea menus are varied based on how many people are attending, the time we'll have tea, and how much time I want to spend preparing things.
The basic tea menu consists of savories, scones, and sweets. For savories I usually make tiny tea sandwiches with a variety of fillings. Egg salad, chicken salad, tomato sandwiches, cucumbers sandwiches, even mini turkey sandwiches are easy and economical. I have made sausage rolls, as well as quiches for teas as well.
The important thing to me is to use fresh ingredients and present everything in as pretty of a manner as possible. I make the sandwiches open-faced as well as with two slices of bread, depending on the filling. Yes, I cut the crusts off, usually after I've assembled them. I also use a variety of cookie cutters for fun shapes. I usually make my sandwich fillings the day before the tea to let the flavors blend. I assemble the sandwiches as close as possible to the serving time. I'll then cover the platters or plates of sandwiches with a damp sheet of paper towel topped with plastic wrap and refrigerator them until needed.
Next, I love to make scones. They are so easy and versatile! I'll add some dried cranberries, orange rind, and pumpkin pie spice to half of my scones for my Christmas Tea on Sunday so that they are full of the flavors of the holidays. I'm planning to sprinkle the tops with red decorating sugar one the plain scones as well to make them as festive as possible. I'll serve them warm with whipped cream, jam, and lemon curd.
Finally, the sweets are served! Actually, you may serve in courses, or just put everything out buffet style, whatever is easiest for you. For sweets I love making things like trifles, steamed English puddings, sweet breads, shortbreads & cookies, and something chocolate. I've baked both pumpkin and banana breads today as well as a batch of fudge. Plus, I have ginger cookies and madeleines in the freezer. This allows me not to be trying to do everything at once and at the last minute. Easy shortcuts include purchasing pre-made goodies from a bakery. I've even seen those little frozen cream puffs served at teas as well. They are pretty popular.
I love going all out for a tea. I enjoy using all the beautiful things I have been blessed with. However, most of what I have has come from flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, and gifts. I have spent very little on my tea things. So often we wait to be hospitable until everything is perfect. I encourage you not to do that. Life is so much more fun when we let others in, even if the floors need vacuuming, and the dishes don't match. Yes, you can do everything and go all out. You can also keep it incredibly simple. The important thing is taking the time to sit with someone and be her friend.
Is there someone you could invite over to tea to take a break from shopping? Maybe you and a friend could have tea while you wrap Christmas gifts together. Tea time is fun as a family! Take some time while you decorate the tree for tea. Maybe tea time can be a special part of your Advent time when you are quiet, gathered around the Advent wreath reading, singing, meditating. Stop to enjoy a cup of tea. What about a special quiet time with your husband after the kids are in bed? Brew something warm, and get a special snack. Take some time to reconnect. Need to slow down? Tea time for one is also a wonderful break. Keep it simple and delicious. It's the time taken that counts more than what you eat or drink.
Because I like having people over, I try to keep some tea treats on hand, in the pantry or freezer. This allows me to set something up quickly and easily which encourages me to open my home more often. Remember that 1 Peter 4:9-10 says, "Offer hospitality to one another...Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others." Having a tea time is a wonderful way to express hospitality. I heard a speaker last Fall say something that I'll never forget: "Hospitality is to bless, not to impress."
As much as I enjoy setting a pretty tea table, I want do it to serve and honor my guest, not to impress her. I can tell the difference in myself. If I am focused on blessing someone, then I am relaxed and able to overlook the little things that go wrong, but if I am trying to impress her, then I am usually nervous and uptight, and worried about every little detail. This makes me not as fun to be around! I encourage you to keep your focus on blessings others this Christmas season. It will make it more fun for everyone, including yourself.