A Cup of Christmas Tea

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Dec 20, 2014

No wonder someone said, “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea and that’s kind of the same thing.”
C. S. Lewis

One of the staple cold drinks of Lebanon County and Lancaster County, Pa. is mint tea or, as it is sometimes called, meadow tea. Amish, Mennonites and other people in Pennsylvania Dutch Country enjoy this iced tea from spring all the way through to the fall frost. Meadow tea is often served at picnics or just with regular family meals.

Just outside our front door I have a patch of mint tea. I have a variety of kinds from peppermint to spearmint and from lemon mint to chocolate mint. I love cutting off a handful of fresh green growth, steeping it in hot water, adding some sugar and a drop of green food coloring (my mother used to do that) and then chilling it in the refrigerator. Pouring it over crushed ice provides a summer beverage that always reminds me of my past and refreshes me in my present.

Meadow tea made by rural people of Pennsylvania, however, is a far cry from the tea that is a staple of some of the most sophisticated people in the world. For more than 5,000 years this drink has been a source of medicine, meditation, piracy, political upheaval, social order, congregation and superstition. Tea has become more than a beverage; it has become an event.

According to Chinese legend, Emperor Shen Nong, revered for his knowledge of agriculture and medicine, mandated presumably for health reasons that his subjects boil water before drinking it. While boiling water one day, a light wind blew several tea leaves into the pot. The aroma enticed him to drink it. He immediately enjoyed it and his body was refreshed.

In 1600 Queen Elizabeth founded the East India Company because she loved exotic luxuries. Soon fine woven cloths, spices, herbs and other riches from the East made their way to England. But it was not until 1670 that we have the first documented tea drinker on English soil.

Soon tea became a major commodity and by the middle of the 18th century it replaced ale as England’s national drink. The colonies loved their tea, too. But when England increased their taxes on the tea, a band of some 60 frustrated colonists took action on Dec. 16, 1773, by boarding British ships and dumping hundreds of pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor. This act, which was called the Boston Tea Party, was one of the catalysts for the colonists’ fight for independence.

Evie and I will never forget stepping into an old tea room in Korea where we were hosted by our friends to some of the most exotic teas we have ever had. The ambiance of the room and the flavor of that ginger tea we will never forget.

Perhaps the most intimate story surrounding tea was written by Minnesotan Tom Hegg, an American author, teacher and theatrical professional. At the request of his pastor who asked him to write something for his church’s 125th anniversary, Hegg wrote “A Cup of Christmas Tea” in 1981.

Drawing on childhood memories, he composed a straightforward, sentimental poem about a nephew going to the older part of town to visit his “old great aunt.” Although he was reluctant to respond to her invitation, he decided to go and see her.

His description of that visit is spellbinding. The book has sold over 1.5 million copies. We also purchased it and ever since then we have read it with our family as part of our Christmas tradition. It is one of those books that fills the mind and soul with deep, rich meaning. I would highly encourage you to make it an annual part of your Christmas tradition.

No wonder someone said, “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy tea and that’s kind of the same thing.”  

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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