International Christmas Tea
by Pat Henking
(Merrimack, NH, USA)
Once upon a time, the speed limit was set at 55 miles per hour for all of America, and this led our church to call its seniors fellowship group the "Speeders." The group began with a wonderful Christmas tea served at the vicar's home one mid December toward the end of the last century. A Scotsman said a Scottish grace, and a Welsh woman brought exquisite English trifle laced with Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry. Other lovely sweet as well as savory dishes were in abundance. The table was beautifully set with holiday holly, ivy and evergreens amidst a glowing advent wreath, silver service, and forest green glass dinnerware.
The group began to meet several times a year for high tea, and eventually it became customary to hold a kind of gift exchange called a Yankee Swap at Christmastime when the most memorable dessert would always be that marvelous English trifle. There were always three pots of tea under wool tea cozies suited to the season: Two pots we called "normal" and these held either Irish breakfast or good, black English tea. One pot was called "weird," and it always held a caffeine-free herbal infusion, typically fruit-flavored and served with powdered honey.
These customs reached their most memorable moment in December two years ago. Our church now hosts four young men called the St. Petersburg Men"s Ensemble. These four Russians can fill an entire building with songs that make people laugh and cry. Their sound is powerful and exquisite. And here they were, the afternoon after they sang for us, at the Speeders' Christmas Tea. They sang grace for us, and they sang their song of laughter, too. Though they know little English, and we know little Russian, it was easy to discover they liked lots of sugar in their tea, and the same international, especially English, foods we enjoyed. Then it came time for the Yankee Swap, and we had brought extra presents so they could participate. What a wonderful, funny, generous time we had together, and we imitate to this day the one very large Russian exclaiming that he wanted a toy giraffe for his daughter.
These are the moments that, pasted together one by one, bring Peace on Earth.