A Wonderful Birthday Party Alternative: Afternoon Tea Party

tea party at home - teapot, saucers, plates, sandwiches, sweets set up on round tableBut you have to, it’s your birthday! They cry. You might get pressure from other people, for whom birthday celebrations look a certain way, but it’s your day and you can choose what to do and how to do it.

If people aren’t ok with that and you are struggling to explain, try Pitch Perfect: What’s Wrong with You? to help.

Who says birthdays have to be celebrated with alcohol and accolades?

Have you noticed that lots of the people who live ‘the high life’ ultimately find it unfulfilling and strip back to simple things? Perhaps your excitement is a letter from a friend, a Healing Box, or photographing a new flower. This may not seem a Pinterest or blog worthy life but it’s yours and it’s true. Maybe you are just skipping all the nonsense in between and living in a very real way now.

How to party when you are in pain?

I love a party!

Evidence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guPPT96Z8t0

Firstly, think what you would like? Are you into clubs, adventures or afternoon tea? I’ve recently started adding all my party planning notes in my recipe folders.

I’ve thrown princess parties, magic parties, long distance tea parties, protest parties, painting salons, garden parties, and as one friend recently described my last birthday – a party in a field. It wasn’t just ‘a field’, it was a dusk picnic by a lovely brook with picnic hampers, champagne flutes and antique willow patterned china. And cake.

Today I’m going to talk about Tea Parties as these are easy to adapt.

Tea has a special place in British culture. Tea is comfort, support, hope, solace, and soul-balm: it’s reviving.

How to hold an afternoon tea party:

Invitations: this is the traditional way to invite someone to afternoon tea.

Mrs. …………… presents her compliments to ……….., and hopes to have the pleasure of their company to afternoon tea on …….. the ………. of …………. next.

Your Address, RSVP.

Food: should be hot, delicious and dainty. Scones, toasted tea cakes (my favourite), hot toast, sandwiches, crumpets, anything scrumptious from the patisserie. Tea cakes macaroons, cucumber sandwiches, and cakes.

Tea: should be poured from your best teapot, either a ceramic pot as it holds heat best or a silver teapot over a flame. Use good, loose, tea, Indian is lovely and fair trade organic, of course.

While the water is boiling, pour some into the teapot to heat it. Swill it around and empty out. Spoon the tea into the pot (using a teaspoon.) Add one spoon for each person you will serve tea for and one for the pot. Add the boiling water and allow the tea to steep for up to seven minutes.

Put the silver tea strainer over the cup. Whoever will “be mother” lifts the teapot and pours the tea through the strainer into the teacups. I put tea in first, lots of fuss is made about it but that’s just silly. Add milk or cream and sugar. I know some people add lemon but we don’t.

Rest the strainer in its dish when finished. Stir and don’t clank your spoon against the cup. Take a napkin and your teacup and saucer and drink your tea. If you are at a tea table your saucer stays on the table and you lift your cup. If you are sitting in an armchair you can hold your saucer while you raise your teacup and rest it all gently on your knee, in between sips. If it is too hot persevere or let it cool a moment. Don’t blow on it.

I know you may have heard of people drinking tea with their little fingers sticking out. Sometimes this just comes naturally and helps to balance the cup. If it doesn’t to you please don’t rigidly stick out your finger thinking it makes you look gentile. You are a beautiful, flawed, whole person right now and don’t need to imitate anyone else’s behaviour.

Teacups: the best were always bone china and hand painted. But of course we can’t have bone china now as it isn’t vegan. So we love good earthenware. Tablecloth and linen napkins or no napkins at all.

Manners: sit upright, no slouching. Don’t eat too much, this is tea not your last meal. Engage socially, offer to help.

Dress: dress up. I doubt anyone else will be wearing a full vintage tea gown. Try a lovely dress, an afternoon dress, not something you wear to a boite de nuit. No off-the-shoulder, thank you. Gloves, coat, bag, kitten heels.

Arriving with a gift, which matches your outfit (flowers, handkerchiefs, etc.,) is always especially special. I always arrive with gifts. It’s good luck to take a gift when you visit a house for the first time.It needn’t be expensive.

In the past we have taken such varied items as:

– Garden flowers

– Freshly baked bread

– Alfalfa sprouts

– Blessing candles

– Fresh plums

– Spiced Celtic sea salt.

The sea salt is easy. Put a clean jar in the oven on a low heat to sterilize it. Add salt, stir in crushed rosemary or thyme from the garden, seal and add a nice label. Done.

There are pitfalls in gift giving however. Something too cheap and without thought (petrol station flowers, cheap chocolate) can be insulting. Something tasteless that they hate, or something so extravagantly opulent can be embarrassing.

How to navigate this? Try to stick to giving things, which can be used like wine or flowers. Never give ornaments. They might feel obliged to keep it in a drawer and bring it out whenever you come over. I used to do this and ended up with drawers full of ghastly things. So now I don’t.

So what is safe?

– Small bouquet of ethical flowers, not great armfuls (unless she is a prima ballerina and you missed the opening night. In ballet classes, you know, they taught us how to receive bouquets which has come in handy more than one would think).
– Fresh herbs,
– Wine or cordial
– Homemade jam
– Homemade truffles
– A Healing Box LINK http://healing-boxes.com/

Why give gifts at all? You are receiving your host’s time, energy and succour, and a gift is a way of giving back. Of thanking them. At best it is a natural way to express gratitude and to give lovely things to lovely people.

Who has the time for all this? I mean really? Well, you and me and all of us.

Celebrating, eating together, laughing, dancing and having fun is part of our lives now and everyday. (Click to Tweet!)

Not when your business is launched, not when your debts are paid off, not when the cancer is gone, not when everyone and everything is ok. Now, right now.

In the midst of this perfect beautiful chaos that is our lives.

And we celebrate being alive every day, during all of it. And everything in between.

You can make the tea party work for you – hold it in bed and let everyone rest after or make fairy cakes together. It’s your party and I hope you enjoy it.


Photo courtesy of Stevie Spiers Photography.


  • Callie Broussard-Wheeler

    As always absolutely perfect. Today is the day to celebrate being alive and having such bounty. I love this. I am a firm believer in tea. It heals it restores our spirit and brings our humanity something sorely missing in daily life. Times to treasure and rejoice. While having tea you seem to notice each second. The steam, the beautiful aroma, the blessed company and the ritual that is a beautiful service. We as humans tend to remove all the timeless beauty out of things. We forget to light a candle and enjoy the moment. These are the days of our lives and the moments that you will treasure. The laughter the starched napkins the tablecloth and the beautiful act of not saving your best things to be used once a year. Nothing is so precious it cannot be used. So break out the good things and bless yourself and your home. You always inspire me and you know I adore you. I would have loved to have spent the evening in a field with you and know it was beautiful. Today at four I will be sitting at my table having tea and if I am alone I will be writing a letter to you.

    Much love.

  • Grace Quantock

    Thank you so much! I’m wishing you good days and happy parties (birthdays and otherwise)!

  • Sheila Bergquist

    Grace, what wonderful ideas! I think they would be so much better than the traditional party. I also love your gift ideas and why you should give one. People just don’t seem to have the manners that they used to these days.
    And we celebrate being alive every day, during all of it. And everything in between. (I love this!) As usual you are such an inspiration. A big hug to you!

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