Christmas Tea and Alcohol
Christmas is a joyous occasion filled with family and friends coming together to share gifts, celebrate, or share in religious tradition. Today you can find people coming together at Christmas time enjoying eggnog, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, mulled wine, or hot tea. It tends to be a delightful and peaceful time of year. That is unless you have a house full of kids, then there is no peace.
Apparently though, this was not always the case. In the early 1800s, Christmas time became synonymous with getting wickedly drunk. Many of the working-class men of the day would waste away their wages on alcohol, spending really, the only time they had off during the year to get drunk and gamble. You can imagine what their wives thought of their annual yuletide antics. Many a man in these days was found being dragged out of the pub by an angry woman waving a frying pan taking back whatever was left of the husband’s meager earnings to feed the family. That wasn’t the worst of it though, there was also a lot of domestic abuse from drunken and abusive husbands and fathers, and I can imagine, from angry and fed-up wives.
Sometime in the 1830s, the temperance movement worked to change all of that. This group of crusaders set out to promote moderation or sometimes outright abstinence of intoxicating drinks. Part of their strategy was to use tea as a replacement for alcohol. They set their sights on Christmas by organizing massive Christmas Eve tea parties enticing the men out with tea and a plethora of food.
These tea parties sometimes had upwards of 4000 guests of the working and middle class. They would drink tea and listen to testimonials of reformed alcoholics. There were often sermons as well preaching against the ills of alcohol consumption. Sounds like a pretty drab affair, but if you wanted the tea and the food, you had to listen to the sermons. Many of them did and the tea parties became a success.
In the book, A Thirst for Empire, Erika Rappaport explains that at these events it was a common practice for, “social and economic elites to serve food and drink to their social inferiors, inverting social norms and hierarchies.” Not only did these tea parties curb the norm of public drunkenness at Christmas time, but they helped to tear down the walls between the social classes.
Rappaport believed that the temperance movement not only moved society away from drinking but inadvertently created its own culture surrounding food as well as tea possibly setting the stage for the ritual of afternoon tea time which emerged around that same time. Rappaport writes that these tea parties “implied that by drinking tea instead of alcohol, consumers would achieve class and gender harmony, political citizenship, and a heavenly home.”
These Christmas tea parties have seen a recent resurgence during the busy holiday not so much to reduce rowdy drunken idiocy, but to help reduce the stress of the season. It is a time where families and friends can enjoy quality time together and enjoy a cup of tea and the food flavors of the season.
If you’re looking to host your own holiday tea party, some afternoon tea with friends, or are just looking for a way to relax during the busy holiday, here are some perfect tea options for the occasion.