Before Miss Party can go too far with this idea, she needs to give a lesson in tea party vocabulary etiquette. After some rather exhausting (oops, exhaustive) research, it seems she now knows all that must be known for the Mad Hatter to host his tea party. This knowledge is important for the reader to also have, if they are to understand some of the planning decisions of this quite unusual version of a tea party. Without further adieu, we shall begin.
Firstly, let me just drop the bombshell on you now and get it over with. The pinkies up, crustless cucumber sandwiches, drinking from delicate china teacups, kind of tea party is not “High Tea” as Americans have misunderstood it to be. In the UK this type of tea would be, in fact, a “Low Tea” or “Cream Tea” (rumored to be named this because, through Victorian history, afternoon tea was taken on low, tea tables in more of a comfortable parlor setting. This “Low Tea” was historically served from 3-5:00 pm. Light meatless sandwiches and small pastries, scones with clotted cream and jam were usually offered.
This was all very interesting to Miss Party, but it didn’t explain an odd detail she noticed with brushing up on her Alice in Wonderland facts. While Alice and the Mad Hatter are having tea, the Mad Hatter explains to Alice why time has stopped in Wonderland. The reason why is of no consequence at this time, but the hour is. All the clocks have stopped at 6 o’clock. Now, being a stickler for details, Miss Party wondered why Lewis Carroll would decide to stop the clocks for an eternal tea time (a la “Groundhog’s Day”) at 6 o’clock, which is well after teatime! It is a curious point to be sure. We will come back to explain this incongruity in a minute.
In England, “High Tea” or “Meat Tea” was historically an early, informal dinner meal served with tea. It began with the peasants in the countryside as a way for the men folk to still have their tea when they came in from the fields in the evening, far past teatime. The term “High Tea” is so named due to the simple fact that this is a tea served at a “high” dining table. The English aristocracy adopted the High Tea when they retreated to their country homes in the summer. The men would go out hunting, the women would retire to rest before dinner. When the hunting party returned they would take High Tea with the ladies. Hearty meat dishes were always served and this tea was served from 5-7:00pm. The women brought the practice back to their palaces in the cities as a more casual way of entertaining close friends, and eventually commoners also often followed this casual type of dinner meal as a way to give their kitchen staff the day off to attend church.
Aha!! Therein lies the answer! Teatime in Wonderland is 6 o’clock which means the Mad Hatter was serving High Tea at the time that time decided the Mad Hatter had killed time. So what, you say? Well, this party is going for authenticity so it would make sense to begin the tea party aspect of the party at 6 o’clock. It also helps to define the types of dishes that should be served and more specifically what not to serve. Food for thought!
Now, don’t you feel very tea party smar-tea, too?