Holiday Tea Parties & Temperance in the 1800s

Holiday Teas
Holiday Teas

In the late 1700s and 1800s, alcohol consumption in the UK was widespread and rowdy. Gin and beer were England's go-to liquid consumables at the time, tag-teaming the Victorian's into a perpetual drunkenness. They were absolutely, obsessively in love with those drinks. However, the long-lasting, soaring intoxication eventually became so extensive and rampant that it was seen as a national emergency, even at jeopardy of putting a damper on workers' productivity levels in an ever-increasing industrialized world.

But along came the steaming glorious savior, that cheap precious drink of a divine nature itself, which we so heartily refer to as Tea.

In years prior, the Chinese drink of choice was rice wine. But they combated drinking it in excess by replacing it with tea. In 1589, the Venetian author Giovanni Botero wrote, "The Chinese have an herb from which they press a delicate juice which serves them instead of wine. It also preserves the health and frees them from all those evils that the immoderate use of wine doth breed in us." Modern translation: "booze is bad, tea is good, look at the good stuff that happens when you drink tea instead of booze."

So just as Great Britain had originally found the treasure of tea from China, so too did they attempt to adopt their healthier practice of replacing alcohol with tea as a beverage of choice. The United States was no different. Although freedom had been gained decades prior from the British, many practices were still taken on and influenced by them. Sloppy beer drinking was the norm, but soon, so too was tea drinking. Desperate times were at hand, so hot delicious measures we taken. This historical thrust would be referred to as the Temperance Movement.

The grandest of occasions during this movement occurred on nights when hundreds of townsfolk would gather in a local building, a "Temperance Hall," for a communal tea drinking ceremony. During these events, the night would focus its attention on headline speakers, men who would typically give lengthy talks on the old horrors of over-consuming alcohol, the importance of the Temperance Movement, and of course, the delights of tea. Numerous oaths — sometimes committed to, other times forsaken — were made in public to drink less alcohol, or stop altogether.

Providing such copious amounts of a hot beverage to several hundred people would seem an insurmountable feat to accomplish, but the clever hosts in charge did not let the overwhelming number of guests and tables hundreds of feet long daunt them. Enter "the N.1 weapon" (tea), served from a behemoth of an apparatus that took the shape of a two hundred -gallon tea boiler. Also in use were multiple three-square-foot brewing containers connected to a pipe pumping out boiling water. For much smaller tea parties or your own drinking, try the utiliTEA Kettle for boiling, and the ingenuiTEA for steeping.

The largest and most extravagant of these events would occur around the Holiday Season. The atmosphere was that of Christmas fun and festivities, but noticeably much calmer than if alcohol were involved. Young and old, men and women, were all in attendance, and all had the most delightful of times. Christmas trees, carols, gifts, and children playing were all a part of these celebrations. It was the perfect occasion: citizens were in need of an escape from alcohol, were provided hot beverages to fend off the Winter cold, and gathered for observance of their holiday.

The focus of these nights, most typically, was on the motivational speaker, the holiday-themed entertainment, and the community members. Here are some excerpts from old Temperance papers that were printed a few days after the gatherings. Sit down, preferably next to a fire, sipping a nice cup of Candy Cane, Chestnut, Christmas, or Earl Grey tea, imagine yourself amongst those gathered at these fine events, and enjoy these old writings...

The Western Temperance Herald. Vol. XXIII. 1859

On Monday evening, the 26th of December, the Annual Meeting and Christmas Tea Pary of this Society, was held in the Broadmead Rooms. About 650 persons sat down to tea, and nearly 200 more were admitted afterwards. Vocal and instrumental music, conducted by Mr. J. B. Taylor, was interspersed during the proceedings, and materially contributed to the enjoyment of the evening... Mr. Cruikshank also spoke twice at some length at subsequent periods of the evening, and was loudly cheered in various portions of his interesting and valuable remarks.

"Christmas at the Temperance Halls," The Temperance Record, January 8, 1870:

At no season of the year does the oft-repeated assertation that persons who do not drink cannot enjoy themselves, receive a more complete refutation than at Christmas. The merriment of such individuals may not be of the boisterous kind, but it is nevertheless heartfelt and tempered with the reflection that there will be no "after consequences." .... The programme of the evening was a varied one. First there was the tea — an indispensable element, — then there was the presentation of a tray and china tea-service.... The attendance at the tea was good, and the hall was quite full afterwards. The visitors seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.... Upwards of 100 persons sat down to an excellent tea. After the repast, music, singing, and recitations entertained the company till a late hour. On the following evening the members of the Junior Band of Hope had their annual Christmas treat. One hundred and fifteen children, with a few friends, partook of tea, to which ample justice was done. After tea various games were indulged in."

The Temperance Record, January 3, 1874:

FITZROY TEMPERANCE HALL. — A Christmas tea party and soiree was held on Friday evening, December 26. Considerably over 200 came to tea, and nearly 100 came after. The arrangements were musical and recitative, under the conduct of Mr. Eccleston, Mrs. Parish presiding at the pianoforte. The addresses on the importance of our movement were given.... Dessert was served, and the whole proved an enjoyable and instructive meeting."

HOXTON. — At six o'clock 140 sat down to an excellent tea, and at 7.15 a public meeting (a very large one) was held.... Some excellent singing was given between the speeches by a select choir, led by Mr. Robinson, Mr. Baxter presiding at the harmonium. A collection amounting to 32 was received. Several pledges were taken.

LAMBETH BATHS. — The Christmas Tree Entertainment of the Borough-road Congregational Church Junior Band of Hope was held on Boxing night, and the Lambeth Baths, which was gaily decorated for the occasion. The Christmas tree stood in front of the platform, and was bowed down by the weight of toys and useful articles to be distributed among the members. After a substantial tea, heartily enjoyed by the 400 little folk who are subscribers, the doors were opened, and the room was soon filled by the friends of the children and others. The Rev. G. M. Murphy presided, and offered prayer. Mr. N. L. Henry, the secretary, made a statement as to the principles and position of the society. Addresses were delivered by the chairman, the Rev. G. W. McCree, and Mr. Frederic Smith. Many Melodies were sung and recitations delivered by the children, and then commenced the work of the evening, the distribution of "the fruit" from the tree. This process occupied nearly two hours, but in the end all the prizes found their way to the owners, who departed joyously, receiving an orange each as they went.