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article imageOp-Ed: Starting Holidays early with Tea — it's not just a Dickens thing Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Nov 22, 2014 in Food
San Francisco - As the morning rain gave way to sunshine this afternoon, the organizers and staff of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair opening today were pleased to host their annual 'High Tea' for members of the press and their guests at 2 PM.
"This is something the Dickens Fair does each year and is a away to help promote the Fair as it opens," said Denise Lamott, director of public relations. This year the Dickens Fair is opening a bit earlier - the weekend before Thanksgiving on Nov. 22.
In full 19th Century attire, actor Robert Young was prepared to enchant the media with his rendition of the legendary author as traditional tea and scones were served. Recreating something of the Dickens family parlor at the Tavistock House in Victorian London, the kick-start event gathering is designed to provide a glimpse into the literary giant's home and lifestyle. Young has been portraying Charles Dickens for more than 20 years and believe it or not, he never tires of it.
The Dickens Fair is not the only place that is getting the tables set and the tea pots ready for the holiday season. The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society will be having its annual fundraiser and tea celebration on Dec. 3 at the Old Mint.
And, some of San Francisco's finest hotels, like the Palace, the Westin-St. Francis and the Fairmont, will all be serving a special holiday tea service menu for the holiday season.
The festive aspect to the holiday season was enhanced a bit earlier than usual as the San Francisco Bay Area got some long-over due autumn weather with a downpour of rain. And, while the rain was needed, often a major downpour can cause people to take that "rain-check" when attending events across town. Yet it is that winter chill and blistery weather that turns people's thoughts to something warm and comforting. And, meeting with friends over a cup of tea with some cake or sandwiches is a treat.
Protocol and etiquette consultant Lisa Mirza Grotts of the AML Group was once the director of protocol for the City and County of San Francisco. She has been featured in major publications and is at the top of the list of consultants that The Huffington Post turns to when information and details on proper etiquette are needed.
She was gracious to respond to this reporter's inquiry as to the enduring appeal of a tea gathering. Grotts mentioned a bit of history behind it too as she said, "afternoon tea was actually introduced in 1840 by one Anna, Duchess of Bedford." "Lore is, noted Grotts that the Duchess became hungry at 4pm. As dinner in her household was served fashionably late, she asked for tea, and bread and butter at that time. She soon began inviting friends and the tradition that we know today stuck!"
To illustrate that tea in the afternoon is popular in many places  such as en-route home from India....
To illustrate that tea in the afternoon is popular in many places, such as en-route home from India. Lisa Grotts noted, "as this was a former British colony, I had Afternoon Tea here more than once!"
Courtesy of Lisa Grotts
Despite our "me" culture, mentioned Grotts, there is still an appetite for this age old tradition that "we" still love to do together." This she explains is one of the reasons why tea gatherings are still around. Yet she did clarify what usually most people in the U.S. misunderstand about tea time. "High tea is actually a misnomer. Afternoon tea is served late in the day whereas high tea is dinner in great Britain - the main meal of the day. High tea is an American term, she said. I've seen many hotels in the US advertise high tea incorrectly."
Whether following English traditions with Dickens or not, having tea with friends is a good way to keep in contact, maintaining friendships, renewing connections, restoring bonds, etc. "Try tea for lunch," says Grotts. "It's savories and sweets in one sitting."
"How many lunches can one attend? How many can actually say they were invited to a tea?" The beauty about tea, said Grotts, is that it can be served during the lunch hour. While the traditional tea time is 3-5 PM, without question it is a unique way to entertain."
Even in what appears to be a very impersonal world and Grotts pointed out, "Technology is here to stay. And although, we find it hard to part with our devices, it's no different than a business breakfast or lunch. What's not meant as part of the meal, does not belong on the table. Period."
Proper etiquette is to turn off one's phone or notepad, iPad, etc. when at tea with friends."The good news about tea for the Digital age is that it's not formal. Traditional yes, said Grotts, but no tuxedo or evening gown required."
For more than 20 years local actor Robert Young as been portraying writer Charles Dickens at the ann...
For more than 20 years local actor Robert Young as been portraying writer Charles Dickens at the annual Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace in San Francisco.
Courtesy of Great Dickens Christmas Fair
"Holiday Teas are especially nice, said Grotts, because there's no better gift than a memory." Grotts recommends, "host a tea in place of exchanging gifts with friends and family."
Grotts had good things to say about each of the tea gatherings in San Francisco this year. "The Old Mint's luncheon tea is lovely. Richard Johns, president of the SF Historical Society, brings in antique tea sets for the event. I believe this year it's coming from Shreve and Co." "The Ritz Carlton on Nob Hill does a tea for children and I have taught the history and etiquette of afternoon tea with mothers and their children at the Ritz."
If considering attending a tea, Grotts points out, it is important that, whether it be it a holiday theme like Dickens or not, that things like the food, the setting, are arranged in such a way that makes it more fun for everyone.
For a list of holiday teas in the San Francisco area visit the San Francisco About Travel page at
The afternoon tea held for members of the press was a success for the opening day of the Great Dicke...
The afternoon tea held for members of the press was a success for the opening day of the Great Dickens Christmas Fair which opened the weekend before Thanksgiving on Nov. 22. Here two members of the cast which joined in with actor Robert Young as Charles Dickens shared a bit of sherry with their tea.
Courtesy of Denise Lamott
And to learn more about the tea and food and festivities of the annual Great Dickens Christmas Fair at the Cow Palace going on now until Dec. 21 visit the Dickens Fair web site.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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