The days are getting shorter, the cold makes it more cozy inside, festive lights shimmer throughout the neighborhood as families are getting ready for the holidays. Christmas is an important time for many people; a time for reflection, celebration, spending time with family, and of course opening presents and having a decked out dinner. Although a cup of tea isn’t the first thing you think of as a typical Christmas beverage, like perhaps egg-nog, hot chocolate or mulled wine, tea does in fact have a rich holiday tradition.
So how did tea become part of Christmas? Well, as it was one of the few days off for many of the British working and middle classes, Christmas meant a boozy session at the bar for most. However, rather than having to drag their husbands out before their weekly pay was spent, or having to deal with a belligerent or violent drunk when he got home, the temperance movement that had gotten momentum in the 1830s attempted to address this lewd tradition and replace it with something more wholesome. That thing turned out to be a good old cup of tea.
Massive tea parties were held on Christmas eve, in which sermons and anti-alcohol speeches were the order of the day. One of the first was a gathering held on Christmas day 1834 at Preston’s Cloth Hall, for which over 1200 people showed up. These tea parties quickly carried over to the United states, and are believed to have helped popularize the notion of ‘afternoon tea’ that still carries a lot of weight to this day, but with an added emphasis on food pairings and holiday flavors and spices like cinnamon or pumpkin, cardamom, apple, and so on. To this day, elegant Christmas tea arrangements are offered in prestigious hotels and restaurants throughout the U.S. and the U.K and remain popular as a Christmas activity, alongside a simply brewed cup shared at home alongside friends and family.