Planning A Christmas Tea

Kari over at Just Livin’ Large has a Christmas countdown on her blog. There are 87 days until Christmas it says. I thought I’d better get on the ball and give you some Christmas Tea planning hints. I can hear your groaning. But everything gets so hectic get in November and December. You will probably have a very busy schedule and feel that you can’t possibly fit in another activity or party, certainly not a Christmas Tea of your own. So the time to begin planning a Christmas Tea is now!

Don’t leap headfirst into heavy planning. Take a trip through your favorite craft, decorating or fabric store. You know you want to. What Christmas colors or themes really grab your attention? I’m not suggesting you completely make over your usual Christmas theme if you have one but there will be new elements to consider, new color combinations to coordinate. If you see something you love, buy it now. It probably won’t be there next month. This way you can have it for reference as you put together your tea. If you plan to make decorations or tablecloths and napkins yourself, buy the material and get started this month.

Once you’ve decided on the colors and decorations you want to use, it is time to think about your space. My whole house gets totally rearranged during the Christmas season. With two huge trees, some furniture must be stored. This can mean that I have less seating available for guests. Think about how you’ll arrange your own furniture and where you’ll seat people for your tea.

Once you know how many seats you have, you’ll know the maximum number of guests you can invite. Each one must have a seat and a place to set her teacup. Deciding on the specific people to invite is the next challenge. You don’t want to slight anyone at this time of year. I’ve found that’s easier accomplished when I have all family or all work or all neighbors instead of trying to combine different groups of friends. A co-worker will understand that she’s not invited to an all family tea but if a couple friends from work are invited and a couple aren’t, you might risk hurt feelings.

Now think about whether you’d like to send invitations. It’s a nice idea and your guests will have a reminder of your tea to keep on their fridges so they won’t forget during this busy season. Order your invitations, select them at a stationery store or make them yourself. You can do this now and get it out of the way and off your mind completely.

Next it is time to open your cupboards, maybe the cupboards of your mother, your best friend, the next door neighbor too. Christmas dishes aren’t necessary but there are certainly some beautiful ones out there. So long as you keep your dishes in the same color family, you can mix and match. Go ahead and borrow what you need. You don’t need a specific count at this time because you don’t have a menu yet. Just explore the possibilities.

If you don’t have the right dishes and you can’t borrow what you need, consider going to a rental place. They always have plain white dishes that will work on any table. They also have tables. And linens. And samovars. I’ve often rented round tables and folding chairs for large events. It isn’t very expensive and in the case of dishes and flatware, you don’t have to wash it before returning it. Rental places to take reservations and this is a good idea around holiday time.

You might think it is too early to start to plan your menu but it isn’t. Once you know what you’re having, you can begin to pick up some of the ingredients. Starting in November, you can even begin preparing the food you’ll serve. Most baked goods will freeze perfectly for a few weeks.

Afternoon tea is traditionally served in several courses as follows:
Soup and/or Salad
Scones with clotted cream and fruit preserves
A Savory Course with three or more tea sandwiches or other small savories like quiche
A Sweets Course with three or more small dessert items that can be eaten in a couple bites

Adjust this as you like. No one is going to faint if you serve more or less or if you have a whole beautiful cake instead of little bites.

When you start to plan specific dishes, think about things you already know how to prepare. Maybe you don’t even want to have to prepare much yourself, preferring to buy most of your tea food. Either way, you have to know what you want to serve. Think about the individual tea courses first. What kind of soup do you like? Is it something you want to make yourself or to buy already prepared? Do you even want to serve soup at all?

Once you have some ideas for the individual dishes you’d like to serve, think about how they’ll work as a whole. Try to keep a good variety of tastes, textures, shapes and colors. It is okay to repeat an ingredient in two dishes but try not to go more than that. For example, you wouldn’t want to serve a seafood soup, with salmon quiches and, smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches. For the tea sandwiches, make each filling completely different. Think beef or chicken or seafood or pork or cheese as a base and don’t repeat. For the sweets course, think citrus, chocolate, nuts, cheese, fruit.

You probably won’t be able to come up with all the recipe ideas on your own. Cookbooks, many specifically for Christmas, Christmas magazines, cooking magazines, TV cooking shows and online food resources will give you more recipes than you could ever consider. Start looking now, today!

One last hint for preparing for your Christmas Tea now is to write everything down. You can keep that information on your computer but it helps to have a small notebook that you can carry around or have right by your side as you’re looking at cookbooks. Make to-do lists, write down your menu, your guest list, stuff you need to borrow. Keep a small calendar with your notebook too. Fill it with the dates by which you need to accomplish certain tasks. A notebook will keep you organized and will serve as a good reference for all future parties!

I’ll have more specific Christmas Tea tips in the coming weeks but today’s list should help you to get started. Don’t put it off or you’ll risk running out of time and not having a tea at all. Take these small steps now and you’ll skip the extra holiday stress that a Christmas Tea can bring.