Tea Time - The Importance of Formal Ceremony at Home

Tea table at Mrs. White's Vermont Home

I usually have tea in a regular coffee cup. It is almost always plain "Salada" tea. I do not take cream or milk. I only add a small amount of table sugar.  In my healthier days, I would drink peppermint tea with honey (never sugar).  Recently, for special occasions, I have been using dainty china cups.

I will not have "tea time" unless some of my grandchildren are present.  I do this to entertain them, to teach them manners, and to help them develop a sort of refined culture in daily life.

I will say to Miss Grandgirl (currently age 3), that I would like to have tea. This is usually after we have done some chores together and have colored with crayons.  She immediately says, in a rather dignified way, "okay." And immediately walks over to the hutch to get my tea cup and saucer.  She places it on the table for me, and we begin the process of preparing a "formal" tea.

I have to say that I was very hesitant to let her handle my fragile dishes. But after a few lessons at the sink washing some of them, she has proven to me that she cares very much and will try very hard to be cautious.  I also have to say that I am willing to give up any of my china and dishes with a sympathizing smile should there be an accident.  In other words, if Miss Grandgirl drops and breaks my cup or plates, I will gladly take the loss.  After all, at the end of life, we cannot take things with us.

At the table, there is a sugar bowl.  Just for fun, I have this filled with sugar cubes.  This is the "company best" sugar that adds to the fun of tea time.  I will say to one of the grandchildren, "I would like one sugar please."  They take turns getting me a cube and placing it into a tea cup.  This delights them!

We always use linen napkins. Some are homemade, some are store bought, and others have been given to us.  These are neatly folded and kept on the hutch or sideboard table.  The children will get one for each of us.  "These go on our laps," I tell them.  We also have extra napkins on the table beside our plates.

I keep a "creamer" container on the table which is always empty. It is there for looks, since none of us take cream or milk in our tea.  Perhaps in winter I will fill it with miniature marshmallows and turn "tea time" into "hot chocolate time."

There is a silver call bell at my place setting.  This is what one would use to call the maid to the table or ask for help.  Since I am the only maid (gentle smiles), I ring the bell to make the children smile.  I might say, "Time for tea," just before a ring.  Or I might say, "lunch is served" and then give the bell a little shake.  The children find this endearing.

In my kitchen, there is a small canister full of flavored teas.  The children and I have enjoyed papaya, and apple cinnamon the most.  I give the children only a taste with a teaspoon, and then I drink the rest.  They love the scent, the fancy cups, the sugar cubes, and watching the steam.  Then they are happy to enjoy juice and a treat in their own seats at the table.

We sit up straight, we talk politely, and we say our prayers with folded hands.  We ask each other, "Is there anything else you need?" or "Would you like some more?"   Here at the tea table, we learn to take care of each other. We learn to be kind and considerate.

Tea time is very short, but the lessons extend to meals.  The children always use linen napkins at grandmother's table.  We always use our very best manners, whether it is breakfast, lunch, or dinner time.  This does not mean that every one of us is perfect, or without fault.  There are still the gentle sounds of an argument among young ones.  There are still complaints about not wanting crust on one's sandwich, or the whining request for more juice. But the ideal is here.  The foundation is being taught by example each time we are at the table.  The children may have interruptions of trouble, but then we get back to our sweet and happy times of placing that linen napkin on our lap with a sweet smile, and then saying, "should we say our prayers now?"  This makes the children very happy.  We do the good things in the middle of the distractions.

If a home had more formal times of ceremony in daily life, there would be more respect and kindness. Manners have always been known to be a virtue and the foundation of a civilized society.  This is why, even though there are mostly little ones at my table, we find joy in a formal approach to tea.

My home is humble and old. My dining table was obtained from a neighbor's front yard with a "free" sign on it, almost 20 years ago. It seats 8.  A white tablecloth I use for "best" is more than 2 decades old.  My chairs do not match. My dishes are an assortment of mostly gifts and hand-me-downs. Yet, it is so very precious and beautiful to have formal manners and tea time in our very poor family. 

It will never be about the money we have, or the quality of the possessions we own.  It is about kindness, and morality.  It is about virtue, patience, longsuffering, and bringing beauty into our lives by our sweet behavior.


From the Archives -

Honoring Husbands - Cooking for Mister.

For The Hard Days - Make the Mess Look Pretty.

The Virtuous Mother - Amazing Dedication.

Mrs. White's special book for Homemakers - "Mother's Book of Home Economics."

An Invitation - Subscribe to The Legacy of Home and have it delivered directly to your email. 


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