Not only can we credit Victorian England for the popularization of afternoon tea, but also for the practice of exchanging elaborate valentines. Did you know this? Doilies, rosy-cheeked cupids, and embellishments added to love letters began during the “Golden Age of Valentines” of 1840-1860. I understand that it was a subtle way for men and women to communicate their real feelings to each other. Don’t you remember looking hard between the lines for a hidden meaning in the Valentine you received in the third grade from the boy you had a crush on? And oh, the first REAL store-bought glossy and sappy Valentine I received in the eighth grade? I’ll never forget it. I’m sure I still have it around somewhere!The expectations get so much higher as we get older, regrettably so. Can’t Valentine’s Day still be about innocence? If you are no longer looking for hidden meanings in punch-out cards or expecting a glossy Hallmark card, may I suggest reclaiming the holiday for children? How can you bring the beauty and fun of the holiday to the children in your life? One way is through a Valentine-themed tea party.
For specific directions on planning your party guest list and invitations, be sure to see my other winter party planning guide. This one will focus specifically on incorporating the Valentine theme.
I can’t take all the credit for the following suggestions. As I opened one of my favorite party-planning books, Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions: Reviving Victorian Family Celebrations Of Comfort & Joy, I saw my idea was hardly original. She suggests hosting a Cupid’s Tea the weekend before February 14 to allow children to create homemade valentines. Wouldn’t this be a lovely event for pairs of mothers and daughters, or aunts and nieces? Use this opportunity to celebrate with the ones you share comfort with and try to include children no matter what your season of life. Now know this, I’m not an advocate of encouraging childhood romances. My six-year old made valentines this weekend for her brothers, father, and grandfathers (as well as the women in her life). Encouraging children in creating beauty to share with others in thoughtfulness is the goal.
Mrs. Sharp recommends assembling all your materials. It’s amazing the beautiful Victorian art one kind find these days on a simple sticker. This book of Old-Time Valentine Stickers only costs $1.50. Such an easy way to add Victorian art to the valentines! Here are a few other sources for simple, vintage, Victorian valentines.
- Vintage Valentines Press-Out Book
- Valentine Postcards
- 24 Full-Color Ready-to-Mail Valentine Cards from the Collections of Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village
What other supplies and embellishments would you need for assembling your own valentines? The complete list is available in Sarah Ban Breathnach’s book I mentioned above. In fairness of copyright, I will not list it here. I will, however, point out that she recommends taking time to make a post office box for the valentines, another memory of childhood I think would be great fun to recreate. Don’t you?
When planning your Valentine party tea menu, think red, pink, white, and heart-shaped. Some very simple ways to include these items are with:
- heart-shaped cookie cutters and cinnamon toast (another childhood favorite) or other open-faced sandwiches.
- strawberry muffins (barely in season, so look for frozen strawberries).
- heart-shaped scones (cut with cookie cutter like you would biscuits).
- a heart-shaped cake frosted pink.
- candy cups with foil-wrapped chocolates, conversation hearts and/or cinnamon candies.
For a more formal, adult-themed tea you can garnish savory sandwiches or soups by cutting out a small nickel-sized heart in the middle of a (clean) piece of paper and using it as a stencil to shake paprika into a heart shape. It’s the little touches that will wow your guests.
Large doilies can be used as place-mats. Always an advocate of using real china and linen as the ideal, even for a children’s tea party, I often choose this holiday to compromise. It’s so fun to decorate in red, pink, and white that even paper napkins will do. And it can be fun to find heart-patterned mugs, possibly inexpensively at the dollar store. I do still encourage you to use real plates and cups. Paper cups tip so easily. Let the food show off the theme instead of the plates and look for white or glass. And paper tablecloths seem pointless to me. Try to use the real thing.
For flowers, roses can be silly expensive this time of year, but tulips often show up right about this time in the grocery store. Carnations, though not the most elegant flower, can be inexpensive and available in every color. When children are involved in a tea party, I always use some fun but classical music like Peter and the Wolf or excerpts from Mozart’s Magic Flute. Children make enough of their own noise without added piped-in music! And classical music literally calms our nervous systems down.
What would you add to a child’s Valentine-themed tea party? I’d love to hear some of yours!